Baylor University Institute for Faith & Learning


Faith and Film

2014 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture
Thursday, October 23-Saturday, October 25
Baylor University, Waco, Texas


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Aho, Karl

Karl Aho
Graduate Student
Baylor University

Moral Ideals in J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson's Middle Earth

In a recent paper and forthcoming book, Linda Zagzebski argues that we should focus on morally exemplary individuals rather than on the virtues these persons possess. One of the benefits of her theory is that it gives an important place to narrative ethics: "We learn through narratives of both fictional and nonfictional persons that some people are admirable and worth imitating." Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy offers its readers several moral exemplars—characters who are admirable and worth imitating. Much of the commentary on the Tolkien films has focused on the ways that its characters—at least to some degree—each embody various moral ideals. But in addition to providing us with individual moral exemplars, The Lord of the Rings and the cinematic adaptations of The Hobbit portrays the virtuous life as necessarily grounded in community.

In this paper, I argue that the importance of community for Tolkien's moral exemplars prompts us to expand our understanding of moral exemplars to include discussions of morally exemplary communities. Whereas Zagzebski focuses exclusively on exemplary individuals, Tolkien (and Jackson his cinematic interpreter) depicts heroism as irreducibly social. The Lord of the Rings highlights the relationships between his heroic characters and the ways that they support each other. We can see this theme both in the formation of the Fellowship of the Ring and in the groups that emerge after the parting of the fellowship. Jackson's cinematography emphasizes communal action throughout the films, even expanding on the ways in which Tolkien's characters work together that are not described in the books. Conversely, Tolkien's main antagonists always act individually, whether that takes the form of individuality as such (Sauron), breaking with community (Boromir), or ersatz, merely self-interested community (Saruman and Wormtongue). Thus, neglecting Tolkien and Jackson's views of community entails neglecting one of central features of his epic. To defend my proposed expansion of Zagzebski's exemplarist theory, I'll first recount the key features of her view. Then I'll argue that the importance of community for Tolkien's heroes (and of individuality for his antagonists) suggests that communities, as well as individuals, may be morally exemplary.

I conclude the paper by considering a counterargument to my view that emerges from Alison Milbank's interpretation of The Hobbit films. Milbank views The Hobbit as a story in which Bilbo is the individually exemplary figure. She contends that the cinematic adaptation of The Hobbit is a story specifically about the possession of wealth. Bilbo, then, is exemplary because he is not enthralled by wealth in the way that other characters are. The question that remains is whether Bilbo is individually exemplary, as Milbank suggests, or is Bilbo exemplary because of his focus on the community—and perhaps the communal possession of wealth— rather than on the individual? I argue that even if the economic themes of the Hobbit are emphasized even more in the films than in the original book, we should view the film as ultimately espousing a communal view rather than focusing on individual virtuous agents.

Balmer, Eric Fielding

Eric Fielding Balmer
Ph.D. Candidate
Fuller Theological Seminary

Her Meets the Real Girl

In this paper, I analyze important features of human nature highlighted in two recent films, Her and Lars and the Real Girl. In explicit and tacit ways, both films play on notions of embodiment and consciousness. Moreover, both films are romantic in nature. It is my aim to see how modern understandings of sex and human nature are challenged by technological advances that underwrite the very strange relational possibilities that viewers are faced with in both films, especially in Her. Finally, I will note a few ways in which suggested relational possibilities can be said to be perverted or natural. I will do so by appropriating Thomas Nagel's account of the structure of sex to adjudicate these claims.

Barnes, Stephen

Stephen Barnes
Associate Professor of English
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor

Hope Is a Four-Letter Word: Viewing Martin McDonagh's In Bruges through the Lens of Louise Cowan's Genre Theory

This paper has two objectives: first, it will introduce listeners to Louise Cowan's genre theory, with particular attention given to her understanding of comedy's three distinct stages; second, and following from the first, it will interpret the film In Bruges as an exemplary work of the sub-genre Cowan identifies as "infernal" comedy. Together those two aims can assist viewers of these movies in their attempts to remain sensitive to the realities of the Christian religion and the influence of the faith's rich artistic tradition when encountering the often troubling blend of violence and humor that marks such films.

Louise Cowan's genre theory takes as its starting point Aristotle's Poetics, wherein the philosopher identifies the four genres of his own day—the classical genres of tragedy, comedy, epic, and lyric. Of those, only tragedy is fully explored in the Poetics, resulting in an incomplete understanding of poetics that has resulted in a "tragic bias" within western literary theory. Cowan's own theory seeks to explore comedy more fully in order to round out the partial understanding found in Aristotle's work. According to Cowan, the fullness of the comic vision, while inchoate in the ancient world, was not fully realized until Dante's tripartite conception of comedy—one broad enough to include the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso—emerged during the Renaissance. Cowan finds in Dante's comprehensive vision a paradigm that allows the intrinsic qualities shared by all comedy to be discerned, whether experienced in "infernal," "purgatorial," or "paradisal" works.

She concedes that most comedies can be neatly classified as purgatorial, the comic sub-genre that is "by far the broadest" of the three, with characters presented as "lost and in need of delivery" though not "really wicked." In such purgatorial works, "[i]mperfection and weakness rather than malice and evil are the obstacles to happiness," and mercy is their overarching pathos. But if it is mercy toward flawed characters that pervades purgatorial comedies, it is "grace and forgiveness" that characterize the loftier paradisal works, moving man into "a realm beyond himself, one that he has not gained by his own effort." These happier two forms of comedy (i.e. the purgatorial and the paradisal) are rarely misconstrued, for they body forth what most audiences already associate with the comic spirit. It is the infernal comedies, however, with their vice and malice, that are often mistakenly judged to be beyond the scope of comedy, but their persistent hopefulness—or, more accurately, the endurance of their hopeful characters—proves, in fact, that comedy is their rightful home, as well.

So where in contemporary cinema can these infernal works be found? Recent decades have shown the emergence of films that are representative of this darkest form of comedy. These works, brought into Hollywood's mainstream by filmmakers like the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino, blend violent crime (often depicted graphically on screen) with laugh-out-loud humor (usually presented shockingly in coarse dialogue). The Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, in his 2008 critically acclaimed film debut In Bruges, offers a powerful example of a film that shares this blending of elements. The hybrid style of these films has caused some to label them as "tragicomedies" or simply "crimedies"; as I have already suggested, Cowan's genre theory shows these works to be, in fact, our age's infernal comedies. These movies are often set in imaginative realms where vice rules. Any virtue present in the works is usually seen in the protagonist who, according to Cowan, "find[s] himself trapped in an infernal society" yet "without participating in its malice." Additionally, the Beatrice figure—called the "pretty girl" by Cowan—must either be absent from infernal comedy or debased and victimized, should she dare even to enter its world. Her goodness remains unknown in a place where "[l]ust, avarice, hypocrisy, and treachery" rule. If the protagonist is ever to love the pretty girl, he must escape the inferno and move into a place where self-love can be overcome. Finally, these infernal works also reveal the diabolical reality of being completely given over to counterfeit goods whose authentic counterparts are found only beyond its hellish confines, within the more blessed comic realms. All of these elements are evident in In Bruges, with the movie's protagonist enduring during his sojourn through the infernal region and ultimately arriving at a place where he desires the grace that can deliver him from the malice surrounding him.

Barnes, Allysan

Allysan Barnes
English Teacher
Live Oak Classical School

How Should We Then View? Watching Films Poetically, not Rhetorically

At least as far back as Wayne Booth's publication of The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), and perhaps even further back than that, it has become a strategy among literary scholars to speak of the "rhetoric" of poetics works. In fact, it is something of a trend to speak of the rhetoric of almost anything, as titles from Booth's later works illustrate: A Rhetoric of Irony (1974), Modern Dogma & the Rhetoric of Assent (1974), and Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication (2004). The broad application of the term risks, however, blurring rhetoric's unique qualities; moreover, when applied to other forms of discourse, it can occlude their distinct features, too. This paper considers fictional film not as rhetorical but as poetic, discussing the dominant poetic genre of our age in a way that seeks to recover the distinction between rhetoric and poetics. To do so, I will look to three thinkers: Paul Ricoeur, Marshall McLuhan, and Martin Heidegger.

In an effort to distinguish rhetoric from poetics, Ricoeur posits two separate triads: rhetoric-proof-persuasion and poiesis-mimesis-katharsis. While rhetoric's concern is inventing or finding proofs, poetry's is imitating an action, or mimesis. In "What Are Poets For?" Heidegger also distinguishes the two roles, describing the work of the poet as that of articulating without self-asserting; Heidegger views the poet's activity as "the work of the heart," which is "no longer solicitous for this or that objective thing; it is a breath for nothing." Such gratuitous speech is contrasted with rhetorical speech : speech concerned with its reception. If rhetoric is the solicitous speech of trade and assertion, then it is breath for something, not "breath for nothing." Heidegger's conception of language shares much with Ricoeur's, for both suggest that poetic language seeks to provide a "house" to reality that is otherwise unaccounted for.

In his early essay titled "Poetic vs. Rhetorical Exegesis," Marshall McLuhan takes up the discourse division between rhetoric and poetics. Therein McLuhan sets for himself the overarching goal of pointing out what a rhetorical reading of a work cannot do: it cannot evaluate, or achieve "plenary judgment." Moreover, if the work's relationship, or lack thereof, to a " precise audience" is a definitive, then a further distinction must be drawn : namely, a distinguishing between rhetorical purpose and any rhetorical effect; arguably, a poetic work will affect an audience who experiences it, but that effect is incidental of the experiences inasmuch as it is not the poet's primary end. The very purpose of rhetorical discourse is, however, exactly that: the persuasion of the audience. Poetics, then, is akin to philosophy in its turning away from the audience in favor of another end. Conversely, rhetoric is highly situated, with time, place, and exigencies of the audience all being considered. The organization of a poetic work is, instead, determined by fidelity to the vision it is attempting to capture. In this sense, McLuhan concurs with H. H. Hudson, who maintains that the poet "has his eye on his subject," while the rhetor "has his eye upon the audience and occasion." Of course, actual instances of poetry and rhetoric exist on a continuum and are never pure. The point, however, stands: it is the purpose of the work that helps one to define its particular function. McLuhan believes that the work of art resulting from the poetic act is a self-contained structure that seeks to achieve only an internal integrity. Rather than directly eliciting a movement of the audience's will, a poetic work ought to result in contemplation. Not the will but the capacity for reflection is activated. Again, in this sense, poetics resembles philosophy, which also results in contemplation rather than action.

nThe relevance of this attempt to recover a more nuanced understanding of the distinction between poetics and rhetoric is especially relevant in our own day, with film as the unrivaled preeminent poetic medium of contemporary culture. (Again, this paper's focus is imaginative cinematic works, not their nonfiction counterparts, which do have a didacticism that is more rhetorical than poetical.) Becoming more sensitive to the ways in which poetic films, by offering new insights and objects for contemplation, can move their viewers, can allows filmgoers to both receive what is lovely in these works of art and to guard against that which is not. To approach them as mere works of rhetoric is to fail to take them on their own terms and, thus, never really to view them, at all.

Beck, Zachary Grier

Zachary Grier Beck
Assistant Professor
LeTourneau University

Saving Mr. Banks and the Role of the Storyteller

Near the end of the movie Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) tells author of Mary Poppins P. L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) that storytellers "bring order to the world," essentially giving storytellers the role of the creator God. Further, in trying to convince Travers to give him the rights to film Mary Poppins, Disney assumes another God-like role, persuading her that he will "redeem" Mr. Banks, the father in the story, which for Travers will be a redemption of her own father's memory and herself.

Saving Mr. Banks is widely known to be inaccurate in its portrayal of the interaction between Disney and Travers, Travers's reaction to the film, and particular details of Travers's childhood. For this reason, the film cannot be viewed as documentary or biography, so what is its purpose? I argue that the main idea of the movie is articulated in Disney's declaration about the storyteller's role. Hanks's character joins a long line of artists who see their mission as " corrective creation," improving upon--or even redeeming--the materials that God has given us. Art becomes salvation, a notion born in the Romantic period that comes to full flower in the Modernist twentieth century. As an artifact of this view of art, however, Saving Mr. Banks exhibits serious problems with the philosophy of art as ultimate redeemer. Indeed, the philosophy is expressed by Walt Disney, a postmodern icon of modernist denial and escapism.

So is Saving Mr. Banks hopelessly lost in its appeal to corrective creation—-at best naive, at worst propagandist? Although not emphasized in the movie (obviously because it undermines the movie's rhetorical strategy), another vehicle for redemption that uses story is present in the movie: gathering a plurality of stories. Rather than the ultimate goal being the hegemony of one story—-in this case Disney's—- the goal should be the proliferation of stories, which bring about greater understanding through empathy and which point to a greater harmony among the stories; such proliferation points back to a benevolent creator God.

Benyousky, Daniel

Daniel Benyousky
English Ph.D. Student, Teacher of Record
Baylor University

Gift and Gratitude in the Documentary Work of W.H. Auden

Near the end of In Memory of W.B. Yeats, W.H. Auden offers a singing summons to W.B. Yeats, to himself, to all poets, to execute what he perceives to be the chief duty of the poet, to express gratitude for the gift of poetry by uttering praise through the poem for its existence, With your unconstraining voice, / Still persuade us to rejoice (68-69). Auden furthermore expresses this sentiment about gratitude in his prose. In his essay Making, Knowing, Judging, he asserts that, there is only one thing that all poetry must do; it must praise all it can for being and for happening (60). The poetaposs, or the artist's duty, then, is to be grateful for the gift of his or her art, and to extend that gratitude to others through their art.

Auden by no means believes that the poetaposs expression of gratitude becomes a constant state of ecstatic praise to the exclusion of any other circumstance or emotion. Alan Jacobs provides a succinct elucidation of this complex aspect of Auden's limited view of art, "while it [art] cannot of its own power enforce any alteration of consciousness or morality, [it] can help those who would be joined together to find their desired unity (53). In my paper, I will argue that Auden advances this limited view of art, as well as his simultaneous gratitude for the gift of art, in two documentary films that he collaborated on, Night Mail and Runner. I will further argue that, though Auden does not believe that art has an ulterior purpose, he maintains that art might lead the viewer or reader to feel a sense of gratitude for existence, which for Auden meant a gratefulness to the Christian God he believed in. Furthermore, I will use Lewis Hyde's gift theory to demonstrate that the language of gratitude that Auden employs in Runner regarding the gifts that humans are given and the development of these gifts signify for Auden the gratitude he feels toward the Christian God.

In 1935, Auden wrote the commentary for Night Mail, a documentary film produced by the G.P.O. Film Unit, which was a division of the Post Office in the United Kingdom. The film included work by other emerging artist, such as Benjamin Britten, who wrote the music for the film. Night Mail depicts the distribution of mail from London to Glasgow by way of the night mail train. Yet, the film further conveys humanityaposs complex relationship with the mechanized world of rail travel that permits such a dissemination of mail, the manner in which humans can quickly communicate with one another across distant areas, and ultimately the transmission of language through multi-modal means. Night Mail also expresses a sense of gratitude for "Letters of thanks, letters from banks, / Letters of joy from girl and boy" (132). And though the film ends with a "hope for letters," it also concludes with an abiding feeling of anxiety, "And none will hear the postman's knock / Without a quickening of the heart. / For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?" (133)

Runner, a documentary film that Auden collaborated on by writing the commentary, was produced in 1962 by the National Film Board of Canada. Runner recounts the Two-mile Invitation Race, which was won by Canadaaposs Bruce Kidd. Auden expresses a gratitude for giftedness with the language of dance, delight, and movement, apparent in the opening line, "Excellence is a gift," yet without the weight of anxiety that is felt in Night Mail (811). The final voiceover of the film is the most striking, where the speaker comments that,

The camera's eye
Does not lie
But it cannot show
The life within (814).

These lines recall to mind Auden's earlier noted thoughts about artaposs limitations, that it might convey the truth, but it cannot "show / The life within." Yet this "camera's eye" does make manifest the gift of excellence and of beauty, which I argue Auden believed might encourage the viewers and readers of his art to the source of this excellence and beauty, God.

Bird, Prisca Yael

Prisca Yael Bird
Graduate Student (MA)
Baylor University

Lifting Up the Hands of Ethiopia: Goffredo Alessandriniquots Abuna Messias and the Good Gospel Work of Occupation

This paper argues that Goffredo Alessandrini's 1939 missionary film Abuna Messias deliberately blurs the line between hagiography and political propaganda. Far from a dry spiritual drama, Abuna Messias is a crowd-pleasing historical epic based on Italian Cardinal Guglielmo Massaia's time as a missionary in mid-nineteenth century Ethiopia. The film is filled with all the usual elements one would expect of an epic : elaborate period detail, exotic locations, and a climactic battle sequence. The only difference is that instead of a dashing young warrior as a protagonist, audiences are treated to the exploits of a middle-aged Franciscan with a paunch.

Despite its engaging subject matter, Abuna Messias remains understudied. Film scholars Ruth Ben Ghiat and AnneMarie Tamis-Nasello largely interpret the film as an ethnographic piece designed to present Ethiopia as backward nation. The above analysis is correct but does not go far enough as it ignores the significant role religion plays in the film. Abuna Messias's real worth rests in Alessandrini's decision to portray Ethiopia as a land untouched by the true power of the Christian gospel. What is striking about this particular interpretation is that the film goes on to attribute Ethiopia's spiritual rejuvenation to the work of Italians and not the nation's ancient indigenous Orthodox Church. By depicting the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as an exotic institution whose insularism has led to corruption and the betrayal of the faithful, Alessandrini sets up Massaia's selfless work among Ethiopians, as inherently redemptive in comparison. This direct vilification of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church allows Alessandrini to make a compelling cinematic argument for the idea that fascist Italy's occupation of Ethiopia is primarily a religious mission- an effort to bring about the harvest sown by the good gospel work of Massaia in the late nineteenth century.

Bucher, John

John Bucher
The Los Angeles Film Studies Center

The Enchanted Story: Using Fables, Fairy Tales, and Myths to Create Short Film Structure

While a great deal of excellent work has been done to identify story structure for feature filmmaking, little has been suggested as to how established rules of structure might be applied to the short film format. Joseph Campbell, Robert McKee, John Truby, Chris Vogler, Linda Seger, Blake Snyder and a host of others have made the path clear when it comes to structuring a story that takes place in 90 minutes or more, but most aspiring cinematic storytellers will begin their journeys telling stories that are fewer than ten minutes on screen. What forms can be presented to these stories? While the aspiring rightfully often turn to educational training to begin their journey to feature filmmaking, they are usually taught all the techniques for creating the feature of their dreams, and then asked to go create a short film. The short films that are created are often experimental, abstract, slice-of-life, character studies without any semblance of structure. These types of films are rarely helpful in moving the aspiring towards more advanced storytelling.

While so many filmmakers create short films in an attempt to demonstrate that they can be trusted with a longer format, all that is demonstrated is that the filmmaker can work with actors and perhaps has some technical prowess. An extremely slim margin of short films demonstrate that the filmmaker knows how to tell a story. Composing a story is much like composing a tune on a pipe organ. All the keys and pedals (elements of story) are there. Any can be pushed. Many chords can be played. However, just because one can play a single note or even compose a chord does not mean that the sound will be pleasant to every ear. It takes years of mastery to combine chords in succession of time to create a song. Even more years are required to gain mastery over the sort of songwriting that will touch the hearts of the masses. Many young storytellers get excited hitting a few notes on the story pipe organ, hearing the sounds that we know we are responsible for making. We often feel we are ready for a concert once we have learned to play a few chords. Academia should be an environment where one can practice and rehearse storytelling with the same patience and vigor a concert organist employs when creating a piece for public consumption. Learning to tell a well-structured story in the short film format is perhaps the best way to make these preparations.

Drawing from the work of Bruno Bettelheim, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and others who had a good deal to say about stories in shorter formats, I believe that short films should either be created as fables, fairy tales, myths or American myths. Each one of these classifications has its own unique qualities that can been defined based on the characteristics suggested by the masters. What I am proposing is a structure for short film stories, building on the shoulders of the story giants that have come before us. The short film is an art form unto its self, sharing a relationship with feature film somewhat like the short story shares with the novel. Short films can and should tell powerful stories. In order for this to be accomplished, there must be some guides. We can't begin to color outside the lines if we cannot even agree that there are any lines. Short films, like features, should be about a well-structured story.

Buhler, Keith

Keith Buhler
Graduate Student
University of Kentucky

Nihilistic Fairy Tales: The New Myths of Post-Christianity

The cauldron of European fairy tales (including Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty,) codified in collections like the Brother's Grimm, and Andrew Lang's Book of Colors (and mass produced by Disney), owes its life and soul to Christendom. Stories like Jack the Giant Killer and Beauty and Beast, as G.K. Chesterton, and J.R.R. Tolkien poignantly observed, have the Incarnation of Christ (and a corresponding Christian metaphysic, epistemology, aesthetic, ethic, psychology, and politics) encoded into them at the "genetic" level.

As purveyors and peddlers of fairy tales (including Dreamworks, Pixar, and other TV and Film studios) have followed the secularization of the west, a split consciousness has emerged. The old myths of Christendom are still beloved, despite (or because of) the haunting ghost of Christ. But cognitive dissonance is mounting. It has become increasingly needful for the new secular priesthood to make a choice: either quitusing the same myths with their embarrassing Christian blood and marrow and make new ones; or else "update" Christian myths, gut and reinvent them into the image of Man, with a new metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, etc.

In this paper I show that both strategies have been pursued, but that second has become dominant. Certainly some storyteller elites have foregone the old European tales in a restless pursuit of breeding any and every story out of the soil philosophical error and spiritual darkness.

But more importantly, the godless have created a new post-Christian fairy tale. It is not a "return to paganism" as some have thought. The old secular pre-Christian fairy tale, broadly construed, (Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Prose Edda) is no longer an option for a post-Christian culture, anymore than the old virginity is an option for a divorcee. So the strategy to "update", to "retell" the old Christian myths has become increasingly marked. It has given birth, I would say, to a new genre: the nihilistic fairy tale. A new fairy tale not just of secularism but of heresy; a mold not just sub-Christian but distinctively and consciously opposite of Christian.

Deploying the philosophies of Christians (C. S. Lewis, Seraphim Rose) and non-Christians (Slavoj Zizek, Nietzsche), I exposit some popular films, TV shows, comic books, and plays (including Kung Fu Panda, Wicked, and the Great and Powerful Oz) to exegete their fundamentally and self-consciously nihilistic blood and marrow.

The conclusion of this exegesis, in short, is that, since the anti-Christian "revelation" of the world cannot simply be sub-Christian or unfulfilled (like the pre-Christian myths), the Christian revelation must be reversed at every point, as Nietzsche, and Zizek have noted. The mold must not be a distorted copy of the divine icon of the crucifix but the negative space around the particular concrete shape of the cross and its dying God.

How does this work? God through Christ and his church has revealed that God is all in all, the Father of Lights, the speaker of the Divine Word, the Creator of all things, including man and woman, the redeemer of fallen man, and the master to whom becoming a slave brings freedom and life and joy. So the new mythology is one in which Nothingness through Man and the State has revealed to itself that nothingness is all in all, the father of darkness, the babbler of incoherence, where abstract Humanity has superseded biological "male and female," that Humanity is both perfect and needs no redemption and also hopelessly broken and beyond redemption; that Humanity is its own Master to whom it must become its own slave, resigning to superficial joy but profound loneliness, grief, and ultimate annihilation back into the Nothingness from which we come and which is always our true nature. Just as Christ is the fullness of God who fills all things, so Man is the fullness of the Nothingness that fills all things.

While these claims may sound extreme, they are merely the logical conclusions of sober minds reflecting on the "Death of God"; while they are bleak, they are tinged with that madcap "joi de vivre" that only the self-deceiving nihilist can muster -- a joy at the "freedom from Christ" that is a violent parody of the "freedom in Christ."

I try to justify these claims through an analysis (in more or less depth) of several works, including The Great and Powerful Oz, Brave, Wall-E, Kung Fu Panda, Wicked, Sweeney Todd, The "Fables" Comic book, and a few others, each of which exemplify (to varying degrees of explicitness) the positive nihilistic "revelation."

Calhoun, David H.

David H. Calhoun
Associate Professor, Philosophy
Gonzaga University

Film as Philosophical Argument: Dialectical Exploration of Theology

It would seem that narrative film cannot make philosophical arguments. After all, as a subcategory of narrative art, narrative film tells a story, and a story depicts a sequence of particular events and actions by characters. Particular events do not make a general case for the truth of a position in the way that an argument does. As Aristotle notes, the definition of argument is a use of language in which when certain things, the "premises," are laid down, something else, the "conclusion," follows logically. A sequence of events laid down leads, it would seem, only to a further sequence of events. Part of the fascination of narrative in general, and film narrative in particular, is the open-endedness of narrative sequence, the fact that we can anticipate but never guarantee what will happen next. By contrast, a well-constructed argument leads us clearly to a conclusion that we can foresee or even supply outright. While it is true that a narrative can illustrate a proposition, in the way that a fable illustrates a moral, this single-case argument by example is hardly a compelling form of philosophical argumentation. Given these evident differences between the approaches of narrative and argumentation, it is unsurprising that narration and argumentation are regarded as distinct rhetorical modes, with different features and goals.

However, a lively recent literature spearheaded by Thomas Wartenberg and Murray Smith has countered the intuitive contrast between narrative and argumentation. Drawing in part on Aristotle's Rhetoric to shed light on the nature of persuasive discourse, Wartenberg et al argue with reference to films that specific and concrete narratives can make philosophical arguments. For example, using as a case study the film The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind(2004), Wartenberg argues that films often function as thought-experiments that provide counterarguments for philosophical positions ("Film as Argument"). While this approach does find a way to characterize film as doing philosophy, rather than merely depicting it, it is narrowly drawn, and would accurately characterize only a small subclass of narrative film.

Another Aristotelian resource suggests a much wider role for film in making philosophical arguments. In several texts, but especially The Topics, Aristotle contrasts demonstrative arguments, which begin from well-attested true premises, to dialectical arguments, which deal with matters of controversy on which there is no clear agreement, and which proceed from generally accepted premises or endoxa. We might say that dialectical arguments explorethe truth of various outlooks by interrogating the assumptions of those outlooks. The paradigmatic case of dialectical arguments is the Socratic elenchus, which proceeds from the beliefs of the interlocutor in an effort to either understand an issue more clearly or to find that the interlocutor's view is unclear or incoherent.

The application of dialectical argument to worldviews, and thence to film, is obvious. In Socrates' use, dialectical argument is not so much a way of testing propositional claims, but examining a life, the entire outlook a person has on matters of truth, reality, and goodness. It is a way of exploring whether or not a worldview is coherent and ultimately plausible. Many films similarly explore a life or worldview. However, the worldview is not examined by a third party, it is imaginatively articulated by the director, producers, and actors in the language of film: story, lighting, color, dialogue, camera angle, diagetic sound, soundtrack, and so forth. It succeeds to the extent that the imaginative articulation resonates with the audience. To use J. R. R. Tolkien's way of putting it, it succeeds insofar as it enchants the audience, drawing them into the narrative and clothing the worldview in imaginative reality. Understood in this way, many films make argumentative cases for a worldview, and can be analyzed philosophically on these terms.

Calhoun, Susan

Susan Calhoun
Graduate Student
American University

Faith, Community, and German Film

Film often presents the needs and wants of the individual measured against the needs and wants of the community. This tension between the individual and the collective can lead to either hyper-individualism or hyper-communalism. In life, Christians understand the need for balance— maintaining personal beliefs and morals, while functioning as part of the greater body of Christ.

Post World War II Germany, particularly the Deutsche Demokratische Republik in the East, tried to emphasize the importance of the community over the individual. This emphasis led to the marginalization of artists, poets, filmmakers, and authors because of the DDR's concern over subversive material. Even those who offered criticism in order to increase the effectiveness of German community were pushed aside. In this way, the DDR alienated many of its own supporters, in addition to establishing more critics. Culture and community suffered in a society that should have caused community to flower. The individual became more pronounced as a result of this imbalance.

I would like to examine this tension through the lens of German film, specifically the people's court of M, the idealized free-love community of The Edukators, the government-induced breakdown of community and individualism in Das Leben der Anderen, and the fatalist structure of Lola Rennt. The DDR's effect on Germany is specific in Das Leben der Anderen, but the other films, including the pre-war M, speak to the heart of German culture and the tension between the collective and the individual.

I'm interested in highlighting these tensions as they relate to German film and culture, but I also hope to explore the connections between these films and Christian life. The successes and failures of these different types of communities may be measured against the struggles and successes of the Christian individual within the body of Christ. In Martin Scorsese's Hugo, the protagonist states, "I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need." The effect of the whole is important, but each piece is vital and must be carefully maintained. Even secular films, such as Hugo, articulate the balance of the individual and the totality of the body of Christ, as outlined by Paul.

Callaway, Kutter

Kutter Callaway
Affiliate Professor of Theology and Culture
Fuller Theological Seminary

Robert K. Johnston
Professor of Theology and Culture
Fuller Theological Seminary

Kathy Brunner
Assistant Professor of Media Communication
Taylor University

Tim Basselin
Dallas Theological Seminary

Creating Space to Breathe: Faith, Spirituality, and Public Theology at the Sundance Film Festival

As I have argued elsewhere (e.g. Scoring Transcendence: Contemporary Film Music as Religious Experience), it is perhaps best to understand the cinema as an "event" rather than a "text," for a film in its final form opens up both an aesthetic experience and a larger cultural discourse that cannot be reduced to any text or object per se. Film's function as a contemporary cultural event is perhaps nowhere better exemplified than in the myriad film festivals that have emerged both nationally and internationally, most of which feature films that are independently produced and financed. (Conservative estimates suggest that there are currently over 3,000 independent film festivals in active operation around the world). Others have already recognized the various ways in which independent films are exploring—explicitly and implicitly—questions of faith, spirituality, meaning-making, and even the divine or transcendent. One has to look no further than Craig Detweiler's Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the top Films of the 21st Century, in which Detweiler considers the theological import of numerous films that had their start in the independent film festival circuit. Yet, little consideration has been given to the religious, spiritual, or theological significance of the cultural phenomenon that these films generate—the festivals themselves.

The panel we are proposing seeks to fill this gap by exploring the theological significance of the broader cultural discourse that emerges in the context of independent film festivals. In particular, it will focus on the Sundance Film Festival, arguably one of the most high-profile festivals in the United States. Each panelist brings a wealth of expertise from a particular field of film production, theology, cultural studies, and theological education. What is perhaps more important though is that all the panelists will be grounding their theoretical frameworks in field research that is based upon over 20 years of collective experience with the Windrider Film Forum—a collaborative effort between Fuller Seminary's Reel Spirituality initiative, Taylor University's Film and Media production program, and now Dallas Theological Seminary's Media Arts and Worship department. In cooperation with these and other key dialogue partners, Windrider curates a space each year at the Sundance Film festival that is intentionally designed to explore the spiritual significance of film in a public context.

The panel takes as its conceptual staring point an organizing image: "creating space to breathe." Thus, the goal of the panel will be to consider not only the ways in which film and film festivals create spaces that are conducive to contemporary meaning-making, but also how the community of faith might enter into these spaces and engage them theologically. Kathy Bruner will describe the format of the Windrider experience at Sundance, drawing on specific examples of how Sundance documentary films have had a transformative impact on her undergraduate students' film education and faith development. Robert K. Johnston will lay out a theological framework for understanding the activity of the Spirit of God in these spaces, which exist outside the covenant community and contain few if any explicitly religious references. Kutter Callaway will address the ways in which Sundance offers an occasion for engaging in public theology and how the community of faith might shift its apologetic posture toward cultivating spaces that encourage similar kinds of spiritual conversations. Finally, Tim Basselin will explore how this conception of film and film festivals might inform and give shape to the future of theological education, especially as it concerns training Christian leaders in the fields of worship, theology, and the arts.

While each panelist will engage with a particular film or series of films, the larger purpose is to provoke conversation among theoreticians and practitioners regarding the various ways in which one might engage in public conversations about spiritual meaning-making in what is often assumed to be an otherwise dis-enchanted world.

Carson, Jordan

Jordan Carson
PhD student in Religion & Literature
Baylor University

Pulp Fiction: Filmic Festive for a Postmodern Age

This paper offers a reading of Tarantino's Pulp Fiction in light of Charles Taylor's concept of the festive. First, I will outline the concept of the festive and then discuss how Tarantino's work fits within this idea and the implications of this comparison.

In his work, The Secular Age, Taylor explains that in the medieval ages, the organizing principle of society (Latin Christendom) was "a kind of equilibrium based on hierarchical complementarity" (Taylor 45). Such equilibrium included tension that was inherent but tended toward stability for the community as a whole. This underlying tension had to find expression somehow. One way it did so was through manifestations of what Taylor calls "the festive." This term refers to events such as Carnival, feasts of misrule, etc., in which "the ordinary order of things was inverted, or 'the world was turned upside down'" (Taylor 45-6). Taylor calls this a "ludic interval" (46), one which allowed for spontaneity, license, and flouting of the regnant order. The festive was a critical underpinning of an ordered society, but it was much more than just an opportunity for diversion. Drawing on Victor Turner's work, Taylor explains how these feasts and occasions were understood as a "safety valve," working toward keeping the peace. But the festive also had a functionalist capacity. It provided the anti-structure on which the societal structure depended. The festivals upheld community over individual social roles and ranks, thus endowing the "weak" or marginalized with a certain power, and ultimately making a gesture toward an even greater equality as members of the human race.

The primary form that the festive takes today consists of moments that "both wrench us out of the everyday, and seem to put us in touch with something exceptional, beyond ourselves" (Taylor 482-3). The festive connects us to something outside of ourselves, but the content of this "something" is not specified or governed and, therefore, may be utterly dislocating.

I argue that Tarantino's work represents an instance of the festive today and explore the implications of this. Tarantino offers both a ludic interval and a medium through which we our pulled into a stream of something larger than ourselves. But beyond this, Tarantino's work, like festivals centuries ago, ultimately serves to uphold the societal structure/code : in this case, commodified, capitalist, consumerist culture.

One sense in which Pulp Fiction is a manifestation of the festive is that it functions as a safety valve. It lets us blow off steam by giving viewers the feeling that they are balking the system. The film explicitly advertises its appropriation of "pulp" : lowbrow, trashy stuff. The viewer is prepped for a foray into the lurid and perhaps scandalous, which promises a carnivalesque experience in the Bakhtinian sense. By taking what is generally perceived as schlock, it imitates the feasts of misrule by appearing to turn things upside down.

Another, more far-reaching sense in which Pulp Fiction represents the festive is that the film puts us in contact with something "greater" than or beyond ourselves. So, like the traditional form of the festive, Tarantino does appeal to a communal imaginary : sort of vision of the whole : but rather than the traditional communitas, it is a communal pop-cultural memory. Community becomes culture : specifically, the commodified popular representations of community. Tarantino constructs this cultural-communal imaginary through employment of a particular form of nostalgia.

By offering pop-culture as immortal, Tarantino suggests that this fifteen minutes can last forever. Part of the original role of the festive was to uphold the societal structure and code on a moral and spiritual level, and to provide an anti-structure to vent the tension. The way Tarantino uses nostalgia : as a commodity : simply buttresses and upholds our consumer culture. I contend that Tarantino's work is not critical at all; rather it is celebratory. Tarantino offers commodified pop-culture : a result of our current economic environment : as the very means of flourishing in it.

The upshot of this is that Tarantino has taken a ritual which once supported an integrated vision of communal life ordered to the service of God and robbed it of its telos. Pulp Fiction attempts to offer us the solace that once came from the hope of eternal life. I argue that he not only offers a poor and unfulfilling substitute, but also that this substitute perpetuates a system that has no room for the sacred or transcendent.

Cartagena, Nathan Luis

Nathan Luis Cartagena
Baylor University

Film, Pedagogy, and the Problem of Evil

Paul Moser maintains (2010 and 2012) that Christians often overlook the importance of nondiscursive evidence—experiential evidence that is devoid of assertive language that expresses a state of affairs or claim. They instead emphasize (often exclusively) the need for and significance of discursive arguments and reasons for or against claims. Moser contends that the neglect of nondiscursive evidence leaves many feeling that the arguments that Christians put forth are too existentially shallow. That is, although they may be valid or sound, these arguments fail to address the existentially weighty nondiscursive evidence that motivates the philosophical debate of which they are a part. These insights by Moser shed light on an important pedagogical issue: many find the arguments that Christians make to address the problem of evil existentially wanting. Students in particular frequently express frustration about how far removed these arguments seem from their experiences of evil. They even voice this frustration in class where they have to read strong arguments for why the problem of evil rules out theism.

I propose that Christians who teach on the problem of evil can partially address this frustration by employing the use of film. By showing cinematic treatments of evil, teachers can provide their students with nondiscursive evidence that conveys the experiential realities that drive human beings to think deeply about the problem of evil. They can also use cinematic materials to help students evaluate the quality of the discursive arguments for and against the problem of evil. Part of these evaluations could include discussions about how well a particular argument seems to deal with a form of evil that a film, for example, depicts. Furthermore, teachers can select cinematic materials that intentionally provide nondiscursive evidence that supports particular arguments for or against the problem of evil. By presenting cinematic treatments of evil, Christian teachers can provide their students with a richer treatment of a wider range of components involved with the problem of evil in a way that partially addresses their frustrations with strictly discursive treatments of this existentially weighty issue.

Chandler, Tim

Tim Chandler
Professor of Communication
Hardin-Simmons University

Juno and Saving Pvt. Ryan: The Sanctity of Human Life and Common Grace in the Decisive Moment

This presentation examines the way film conventions are used to frame the value of human life in two disparate films, neither of which could be considered a Christian or faith-based movie. Juno is the story of a young woman's unwanted pregnancy and the decisions she makes regarding her unborn child's future, while Saving Pvt. Ryan is the story of a pilgrimage to rescue the one remaining son of the four from the Ryan family, three of whom died within days of each other during World War II.

In discussing scenes from both films, which depict decisive moments, formal and social analysis as well as narrative form will be used to explain how these movies portray common grace. The decisive moment as defined by photographer Henri-Cartier-Bresson, is that occasion when, "you could fix eternity in a second." He said: "To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of formswhich give that event its proper expression.

Both Juno and Saving Pvt. Ryan are good examples of how decisive moments serve as narrative conventions, portrayals of life values and events illustrating common grace.

Using Cartier-Bresson's definition as a starting point, the three points under consideration for these films will involve a key scene, the way the scene is shot and edited, and the faith significance of the scene in depicting Gods grace.

Three techniques will be used in relation to a key scene from each film; condensation and displacement, mis-en-scene~, and theological analysis. Condensation, as explained by Nichols in Engaging Cinema, as "the process of loading something up with more meaning or importance than it would normally receive by packing a variety of values and meaning into a single signifier or image." Displacement, as defined by Nichols, is used to treat volatile social issues by shifting tension, conflict, and emotional energy from its primary source to a secondary, less inflammatory focus.

Mis-en-scene~will be used to discuss the verisimilitude of the scenes in question and the theological analysis will be done using conceptual frameworks developed in Explorations in Theology and Film, edited by Marsh and Ortiz. Specifically the work of Neihbur on Christ's relation to culture and variants of that model will be used to examine the relationship of theology to culture as well as to find how those models apply to these films. Juno and Saving Pvt. Ryan both explore the worth of the individual in settings which at best are ambivalent to the concept of one solitary life and the value it may possess aside from utilitarian purpose and its intrusion on personal convenience.

The thesis of the presentation is that film is in dialogue with culture, society, and individual and that film offers ways of understanding and discussing life. If we accept that, the root of all art is storytelling and as C.S. Lewis observed, that "We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own", then we can also accept that film is a means to this end. While both the church and movies are attempts to answer the question of how we should live our lives, both these sources provide answers that are sometimes truth and sometimes lie with every stop in between. The value of film can sometimes be found in the notion that the stories provided by movies often approach life from a perspective that doesn't seek to provide easy answers and forces the audience to wrestle with the notion of truth and faith and what those look like in real life. The twist is that non-Christians, because they have no vested theological interest, are often perceived as more astute observers and portrayers of Gods truth and this presentation will explore why this may be from both a biblical perspective as well as the perspective of film scholars. (Johnston—Reel Spirituality p. 70, 80, 161; Reframing—p. 39)

Ultimately Juno and Saving Pvt. Ryan can be viewed as promoting the notion of life as sacred enough to sacrifice everything to preserve it within the worlds portrayed and do so without overtly appealing to biblical authority. The ways in which these films achieve this is worth discussing for the insight it provides for living in a post-modern culture where life is increasingly commoditized for a variety of reasons, all of which are detrimental.

Chisdes, Jonathan

Jonathan Chisdes
Writer and Publisher
Chizfilm Jewish Movie Reviews

"The Eyes of God": Struggles with Faith in Jewish Films

The vast majority of Jewish films, unlike Christian films, don't dwell so much on the struggle with faith; they rather focus on political/cultural issues like anti-Semitism, assimilation, the negative effects of fanaticism, the Holocaust, the Israeli-Arab conflict, or cultural childhood nostalgia. While these are all engaging films dealing with topics that are vastly important to the Jewish community, and do so powerfully and creatively, it is disappointing that most Jewish films don't confront the issue which I consider to be one of the most important to the very essence of religion: the question of whether or not there is a God and how one should relate to his or her Maker.

Fortunately, there are three films which don't shy away from these difficult topics. I refer to the Coen brothers' 2009 movie "A Serious Man;" "The Believer" which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival; and 1989's "Crimes and Misdemeanors," written and directed by perhaps the quintessential Jewish filmmaker, Woody Allen. All three films struggle deeply with questions of Jewish faith and come up with answers—if they can indeed be called answers—that are quite unsettling.

The most recent of these, "A Serious Man," was inspired by the book of Job. Here, the Coens introduce us to Larry Gopnik whose life is falling apart. His children don't respect him, his wife wants a divorce, his brother is arrested, the pressures at work increase, and he might have severe health issues. When a close family friend is killed in a car accident, Larry turns to three rabbis to try to make sense of his misfortune. Is God punishing him, testing him, or is it possible that there is no God and everything is just poor bad luck? None of the three rabbis can help. Larry's all alone with his Maker where the smallest of moral actions can have tragic consequences.

Similar wrath-of-God issues play out in "The Believer" but in a much more subtle way over a longer period of time. This movie takes the concept of the self-hating Jew to the ultimate extreme. Inspired by a true story, we follow the strange journey of Daniel Balint (Ryan Gosling in his breakout performance) who as a school child questions the traditional interpretations of God. He not only leaves the Jewish community but joins a group of Neo-Nazis; he criticizes everything Jewish, inspires them to murder Jews, and plots to blow up a synagogue. Yet when he steals a Torah, his moral conscience is reawakened; but it's not enough to save him and when he finally does meet his Maker, he's forced to confront the ultimate nothingness of a certain Jewish theology.

Finally, in Woody Allen's most religious film, "Crimes and Misdemeanors," we are forced to confront that most difficult of questions: why do the innocent suffer while the wicked prosper? The movie begins when Judah—whose very name means "Jew"—gives a speech recalling how his father would tell him that "the eyes of God are on us always." But when his life becomes too complicated by a mistress who threatens his marriage, his solution is to murder her. For a while, he faces a moral crisis in which he remembers the teachings of his religious upbringing of how the wicked are ultimately punished; memories plague him in a very creative scene. Yet the chilling conclusion, in which he has learned to forget about his crime and go on with a successful and rewarding life, challenges the very foundation of the moral center to Judaism or any religion for that matter.

Recent Christian films, such as "God's Not Dead," offer comforting solutions where even the atheist antagonist has the chance to be saved at the last moment thanks to God's love for everyone, but Jewish films which honestly struggle with the real world problems of faith can offer no such easy solutions.

Classen, Stephen D.

Stephen D. Classen
George Fox University

Matt Meyer
Associate Professor
George Fox University

Evan C. Rosa
Communications Programmer
Biola University-Center for Christian Thought

What Makes a Film Christian? Perspectives and Definitions from a Philosopher, Filmmaker, and Critic

This panel discussion takes up one of the conference's proposed CFP topics, namely, "what makes a film Christian"? from differing professional perspectives. As was made so clearly manifest in debates regarding Darren Aronofsky's retelling of the Noah story, definitions of what constitutes a "Christian" film are disparate, dynamic and more often than not in conflict or tension with one another. This panel seeks to draw attention to some of these differences and conflicts, rather than resolving them, in order to illuminate and encourage wider discussions that are philosophical, historical and professionally practical in nature. Thus, the panel consists of a philosopher from the Biola University Center for Christian Thought, a filmmaker who teaches and practices his art in a Christian liberal arts setting, and a media critic who has worked and taught in Los Angeles for the past 20 years.

From the perspective of a filmmaker, practical questions arise regarding the qualities and hallmarks that distinguish films as "Christian," and to what degree certain story types, storytelling techniques, and production qualities generally identified as "Christian" improve or diminish the potentials and overall quality of film projects. What assumptions should or do Christian filmmakers bring into the production process? And, in a larger sense, to what degree do or should we think of "Christian" film as inevitably linked to Christian authors and directors and to the producer/directors' intentions?

In many ways, such questions circle around differing and dynamic concepts of film genre, and how such categorizations and their attendant discourses are adopted and made material in film. To what degree are there any culturally or professionally stable sets of genre characteristics that lead to some consensus on defining a film as Christian? If so, how is this somewhat fragile consensus established? And how do understandings of genres and subgenres inform the expectations and practices of audiences, critics and film creators? This is a discussion that is rooted in media history and criticism, and from a critic and historian's perspective, is one that invites further discussion of recent scholarly work on popular genre construction. How is this scholarship relevant to definitions of a film as Christian?

Of course, even larger framing questions, long rooted in philosophical scholarship, ask what constitutes Christian art? How does recent philosophical work begin to answer this question and bring necessary insights to the filmmaker, practitioner, audience member and critic?

This panel will open with a series of remarks and questions for further consideration offered by the three panelists, but will encourage informal exchange between the panelists and audience, and will intentionally provide significant time for audience engagement, questions, and further discussion.

Clayton, Brian

Brian Clayton
Director, Faith & Reason Institute
Gonzaga University

The Sometime, Somewhat, Almost Christian Vision of M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan's first film widely released in the United States was "Wide Awake" (1998), the story of ten year old Joshua Beal who goes on a quest to find God. The occasion for the quest is the death of his beloved grandfather. Joshua's parents reassure him that his grandfather is safe, as do the nuns at the Catholic school he attends. In this way, Joshua confronts a version of the traditional theistic problem of evil and suffering. By the end of the film, it seems as though God has answered Joshua's questions in an unexpected way. Throughout the film, Shyamalan uses images, themes and ideas drawn from the Christian tradition.

Similar use of the Christian tradition appears in other Shyamalan films, such as "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs." Churches, priests, and Christian art and practices populate Shyamalan's filmic world.

All of this leads me to ask, Is M. Night Shyamalan's vision as a writer and director essentially a Christian vision? I will argue that the answer to this question is "No." In order to answer the question, I will briefly survey Shyamalan's oeuvre as writer and director, but will focus especially on "Signs," which is arguably the film that draws most fully and explicitly from the Christian tradition.

Although Shyamalan's vision is not essentially Christian, it remains the case that his films frequently address faith concerns and do so in a way congenial to the Christian tradition.

Cohen, J. Laurence

J. Laurence Cohen
Graduate Student
Emory University

"I ain't no crazy, killin' fool": De-mythologizing the Western in Unforgiven and Gran Torino

In its classic form, the Western romanticizes the exploits of a lone gunslinger, whose violent actions are justified by the behavior of lawless villains. The villain typically commits an unthinkable offense, whether against the hero himself or an innocent woman, against which the hero cannot refrain from retaliating. The genre encourages the audience to believe that the villains deserved to die. As Jane Tompkins observes in West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns Westerns typically yoke femininity, pacifism, and Christianity together, as a female character urges the hero to avoid violence. As in films like High Noon, this voice of Christian pacifism is inevitably silenced, and the hero is vindicated for killing his enemies. This paper examines how two of Clint Eastwood's late films critique the genre that made him an icon. Eastwood directed and starred in both Unforgiven and Gran Torino. While Unforgiven critiques the romanticized violence central to the Western as a genre, Gran Torino goes beyond this to offer self-sacrifice as an alternative to violence.

In Unforgiven, Eastwood critiques the classic Western myth of the lone gunslinger. Reflecting on the inescapable cycle of violence in which the gunslinger participates, he portrays many of the tropes of the classic Western, but strips them of their glamor. The Schofield Kid, for instance, is an exquisite caricature of the classic Western gunslinger—all bravado, no actual skill. Whereas the classic Western outlaw is preternaturally skilled at shooting, the Kid's eyesight is too poor for him to shoot well at a distance. He is a fraud who loses his bravado at his first bitter taste of killing. Eastwood's character, William Munny, is an aged, retired gunslinger, who has forsaken a life of violence to raise his children. Before her death, his wife, Claudia, convinced him to give up drinking and killing. She is the voice of Christian pacifism, and succeeded in turning her once fearsome husband into a pig farmer. Yet, the film opens after her death, so she is silenced even before the plot begins. Will wants to collect one last ransom, hoping to use the money to provide for his children, but as the film progresses, he is gradually drawn back into the harsh cowboy world which he has worked so hard to leave behind. He tries to stay true to his wife's values, but circumstances conspire to force him to kill again and again. The plot is set in motion when a prostitute is maimed by one of her customers, and her friends put a ransom on him. Will, his friend Ned, and the Schofield Kid set out to claim the bounty. The film dramatizes the gratuitous nature of the cycle of violence: one death leads to another. While death scenes are usually dramatic in the classic Western, in Unforgiven they are portrayed without glamor. Instead of killing his quarry in a shoot-out, however, the Schofield Kid shoots him while he is using the toilet. The film makes the viewer feel how uncomfortable it is to watch a man die in a realistic way. Although Will takes up his pistols again out of necessity, when his friend Ned is murdered by the corrupt sheriff, Little Bill, he slides inexorably into the role of avenger. Despite his intentions, by the film's bloody climax, Will has been transformed into his old, violent self.

If Unforgiven de-romanticizes the violence at the heart of the Western, then Gran Torino offers a more radical critique of the genre. While in Unforgiven the protagonist is drawn back into the cycle of violence, in Gran Torino the hero chooses self-sacrifice over vengeance, martyrdom over murder. Gran Torino features several important parallels to Unforgiven: a victimized woman, a reckless youth seeking murder, and Eastwood playing a grizzled veteran of many battles who has lost the taste for blood. Like William Munny, Walt Kowalski is a widower, whose only connection to religion is through his dead wife. He reluctantly befriends his Hmong neighbors, Thao and Sue. When a Hmong gang abuses Sue, however, the stage seems set for Walt to avenge her with all the righteous fury of the classic Western gunslinger. Thao, much like the eager and naive Schofield Kid, hopes that he and Walt will do just that. Yet, instead of gunning down the villains at the end of the film, Walt takes on the role of Christ-figure, sacrificing himself so that the gang members go to jail and Thao and Sue are safe.

Coleman, Bearden B.

Bearden B. Coleman
Assistant Professor of English and Film
The King's College

Everyday Contingencies: Reassessing Transcendental Style

Though Paul Schrader's book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer is now over forty years old, its influence is still keenly felt, even if by influence we mean there is more often than not strong reaction against its claims. To grasp the influence of Schrader's book we only have to look at the ways critics and scholars who write on a director such as Robert Bresson (or any other director whose films supposedly work in that fuzzily-defined "transcendental" realm) often argue their positions in relation to or opposition against Schrader's book. Here we could cite Jonathan Rosenbaum's contention "that Bresson is not a religious artist at all, but in fact a materialist." Or we could look at David Bordwell's critique of Schrader's transcendental reading of a scene in Ozu's Late Spring, from Bordwell's book Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, in which Bordwell writes, Schrader's reading "rest[s] on shaky premises." In the case of Gilles Deleuze in "Beyond the Movement-Image," we can observe him both affirming Schrader (in regards to Schrader's reading of the "everyday" qualities in Ozu) and denying Schrader (in regards to Schrader's notion of "disparity" within the ban of the "everyday" in Ozu). Here in this space, without a doubt, we could continue to pile up these sorts of examples. All of this is a way of saying that though Schrader's work may no longer be deemed theoretically valid, it still casts a long shadow over the consideration of certain filmmakers such as Dreyer, Ozu, and Bresson, for sure, but also over other figures as disparate as Jean-Pierre Melville, Budd Boetticher, Claire Denis, and Alexander Sukorov.

By reassessing Paul Schrader's basic thesis from Transcendental Style in Film, this paper examines conceptions of "the everyday" and contingency in cinema. This paper argues that Schrader's prescribed style is problematic for two primary reasons. 1) His style closes the door to the contingent in film, which this paper contends is the very place the ineffable or transcendent thrives. 2) His style emphasizes a negation of "the everyday," which effectively undermines film as a perceptual object. With the insights of, among other, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Ivone Margulies, and Mary Ann Doane this paper investigates the films of Robert Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard, Nathaniel Dorsky, Carlos Reygadas, and Philip Grãning in order to better understand how "the everyday" and contingency work in cinema. Finally, this paper briefly uses Mircea Eliade's thought on sacred space to consider changes in cinema exhibition spaces.

Colón, Christine

Christine Colón
Associate Professor of English
Wheaton College

Translating Christian Morality to Film: Patricia Rozema and Whit Stillman Respond to Jane Austen

The large number of film adaptations of Jane Austen's novels has generated substantial discussion on the difficulties of translating literature to film, particularly when the author's worldview is different from that of many audience members. These difficulties are particularly challenging when we approach Austen's Mansfield Park with a heroine that, as Lionel Trilling famously declared, no one "has ever found it possible to like." While many have defended Fanny Price in response to Trilling, contemporary filmmakers have had difficulty representing her passivity and seemingly conservative morality. By exploring the Christian moral center of the novel as it is embodied in the quiet, passive character of Fanny and then investigating how Patricia Rozema and Whit Stillman deal with the challenges of representing it in their adaptations, we will begin to see the qualities of these film adaptations that open up the conversations that contemporary audiences may have about Christian morality and its relevance in a modern world.

The two television versions of the novel produced in 1983 and 2007 demonstrate the challenge of retaining the Christian moral center of the novel while engaging a contemporary audience that may no longer resonate with that conception of morality, for neither does it well, either relegating the Christianity to an early nineteenth century context that has no relevance for today or ignoring it entirely. In contrast, Rozema's Mansfield Park (1999) and Stillman's Metropolitan(1990) reveal much more productive ways that filmmakers may adapt a novel immersed in nineteenth-century conceptions of Christian morality for a contemporary audience, allowing for both moral commentary and audience engagement. Both adaptations encourage productive reconsiderations of the novel from a contemporary perspective by opening up the moral center of the original novel in fascinating ways.

Rozema, however, does not do this quite as effectively as Stillman, for by shifting the moral center of the novel away from Austen's Christian context, she presents a twentieth-century critical perspective that redefines Fanny's morality outside of Christianity, providing a fascinating film but one that has little engagement with Austen's Christian perspective. By crafting a postcolonial interpretation that emphasizes the dangers of colonial oppression, Rozema creates space for productive discussion that moves beyond seeing the novel simply as an untouchable classic or as a simple romance. Unfortunately, it widens the conversation only so far. For Rozema, the novel might have something interesting to say but only if we make the main character more active or if we highlight the implicit theme of slavery, things that Austen was, presumably, unable to do within the confines of her society. By recuperating Austen in this way, Rozema ultimately distances our world from Austen's in a way that rejects the Christian morality of her timid main character, seeing it as irrelevant for today's society.

Stillman's free adaptation of the novel translates Austen's Christian morality more effectively to a contemporary audience by directly acknowledging the difficulties of this translation, by choosing a modern scenario that highlights the similarities between Austen's time and our own, and by crafting an essentially passive, moral heroine that a contemporary audience will still root for. While Audrey, Stillman's version of Fanny Price, is never represented as an explicitly Christian character, her love of Austen and her old-fashioned morality (represented most directly by her virginity) compel viewers to wrestle with the concept that Austen's Christian morality might actually have value for a more modern world. By understanding the critical conversation that surrounds the novel while also embracing Austen's conception of her heroine, Stillman achieves a balance in his adaptation that provides a powerful model for contemporary engagement with Austen's original context as he opens up the conversation about Christian morality both then and now.

Crenshaw, Christina Y.

Christina Y. Crenshaw
Baylor University, SOE

Finding the Sacred in the Secular: Using Film as a Platform for Integrating Faith and Learning

This presentation is twofold in purpose: first, it argues the value of including films with religious topics and themes as a method for not only integrating faith and learning but also becoming culturally relevant to millennial students. Second, the presentation offers practical examples of how instructors can apply a Christian worldview to films derived from classic literature. These texts made into films are not overtly religious but resonate with Christian principles nevertheless. The author provides examples of how a Christian worldview lens allows instructors to illuminate the biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration when discussing cinema. Classical texts commonly taught in Literature courses, such as Frankenstein, Lord of the Flies, The Great Gatsby, The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, and To Kill a Mockingbird, are used to bringing a religious discussion from print to cinema.

Film as a vehicle to teach is now widely recognized and validated component of secondary schools and higher education classroom curriculum. Educators and media literacy researchers alike advocate for its inclusion in classrooms (Briley 2002; O'Connor 2001; Sprau and Keig 2001; Toplin 2002). State and National standards now include objectives pertaining specifically to cinema in the curriculum standards for nearly all core subjects. Media and literacy researchers argue that film has become the lingua franca of contemporary western students; it is the common language spoken amongst post-millennial students (Cargal, 2007). Researchers also assert that media literacy can be a tool for historical, literary, and humanistic study (Toplin, 2002). The inclusion of films in secondary classrooms is increasingly becoming part of the curriculum in core courses such as history and English. Additionally, higher education courses no longer relegate film study to communication of media departments; rather, cinema is commonly used as a medium for teaching and discussion in liberal arts and social studies courses. The classroom landscape is changing. Today, educators agree there is more to teaching film than simply showing a movie. In fact, Nash (1996) suggests film discussion should receive the same analytical treatment as printed literature.

Unfortunately, film discussion often lacks a religious analytical lens, even when the film is apt for religious interpretation. An abundance of Christian references and themes exist within popular cinema, yet they are frequently "dismissed, ignored, or under utilized by educational and ecclesiastical institutions" (Kozlovic, 2008, p.32). Instructors in public and state funded learning institutions may dismiss or out right ignore religious references, particularly those specific to Christian, biblical teachings for fear of breaching the proverbial iron wall between church and state. Burgeoning teacher candidates are indoctrinated from the onset of their studies that they must keep their faith and their classrooms at arm's length from one another, at all times. Given this, it is not surprising many instructors feel inadequately prepared to analyze and discuss films for their religious themes. That an instructor has committed a legal violation if he or she makes space for a faith discussion in a public learning institution is a false and destructive misinterpretation of the separation of church and state. Additionally, it is simply not possible for a person of faith to exclude his or her religious worldview analysis from teaching and learning. More importantly, it is disingenuous for a public, non-religious institution to expect an instructor to do so.

Yet, even in Christian, faith based institutions of learning where faith integration is encouraged if not expected, there is reluctance amongst educators to incorporate films and discuss them for their religious themes, and so these opportunities are indeed under-utilized. Professor of Religious Education Peta Goldberg (1999) makes a similar observation when she notes, "Few religious educators contribute to religious dialogue in the marketplace of the cinema"(p.179). She argues some instructors underutilize religious film as part of the pedagogical practice because they either consider the themes irrelevant or they feel inadequately prepared to engage the film's religious themes and references. As Kozlovic (2008) also maintains, films can be a particularly powerful means of enhancing religious literacy by including cinema as a means to explore how faith speaks to life's deeper questions on topics such as life, death, sin, redemption, good, and evil.

This presentation suggests there are three methods for engaging a religious discussion from a Christian worldview perspective. A worldview is a way of thought, a paradigm that cannot be separated from one's personhood; it is the lens through which a person sees life, and it is the conscious of judgment for decisions made (Naugle, 2002). First, it's imperative the instructor is able to recognize the foundational elements of a Christian worldview: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. As Holmes (2002) identified, a biblical worldview as the foundation of Christian education, further establishing the instructive mission for Christian schools and educators. Second, the instructor should create space for conversation. It is not sufficient to rely on direct teaching or lecture techniques when incorporating film analysis in courses. Instead, it's essential for instructors to include Socratic methods that foster discussion, critical thinking, analysis, and application. Third, the instructor must create space for interpretation. The best classroom discussions keep students engaged and challenged. They also encourage students to develop their own interpretations within the framework of constant, unchanging truths. Allowing space for multiple interpretations challenges students to defend their assertions about the film's biblical allegories, Christ figure, scripture references, personification of good and evil, and so forth.

Briley, R. 2002. Reel history and the cold war. Organization of American Historians Magazine of History 8 (2): 19–23.
Cargal, T. B. 2007. Hearing a Film, Seeing a Sermon: Preaching and Popular Movies. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Goldburg, P. 1999. "Scripture in the Eye of the Beholder: Using the Creative Arts to Teach the Bible." Journal of Religious Education 47.2:24–31.
Holmes, A. F. (2002). Foreword. In D. Naugle, Worldview: The history of a concept (p. XV).Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Kozlovic, A. K. 2006a. "Film, Religion and Education in the Twenty-first Century: The Hollywood Hermeneutic." Australian Religion Studies Review 19.1:35–52.
Kozlovic, A. K. 2008. Christian Education and the Popular Cinema: The Creative Fusion of Film, Faith, and Fun."
Nash, K. S. 1996. "'Toto, We're Not in Kansas Anymore': From Historical Criticism to Film Theory." Semeia: An Experimental Journal for Biblical Criticism 74:183–88.
O'Connor, J. 2001. Reading, writing and critical viewing: Coordinating skill development in history learning. History Teacher 34 (2): 183–93.
Naugle, D. (2002). Worldview: The history of a concept. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Toplin, B. 2002. Invigorating history: Using film in the classroom. Organization of American Historians Magazine of History 16 (4): 5–6.

Croteau, Melissa

Melissa Croteau
Associate Professor and Director of Film Studies
California Baptist University

Joe Kickasola
Associate Professor Director of the Baylor Communication in New York Program
Baylor University

Rebecca Ver Straten-McSparran
Los Angeles Film Studies Center—CCCU

Dawn Ford
Huntington University

Light and Shadows: The Challenges of Teaching Film in the Christian Academy—An Open Discussion

Film educators at evangelical Christian institutions often encounter challenges in regard to the material they teach and the creative production they encourage and/or allow their students to compose. This discussion panel will deal with important and specific issues, both philosophical and practical, in the Christian academic community related to the teaching of film and filmmaking.

The members of the discussion panel are established academics and scholars with many years of experience teaching film and filmmaking in evangelical Christian institutions.

A sample of the questions we would like to address with the roundtable discussion panel follows: Does the study of film belong in Christian universities? How/Why can it be valuable? What are the responsibilities of the film professor in a Christian university and how are they different from those of professors in secular institutions? "Trigger warnings" for university students regarding disturbing literary/filmic content are a significant topic of conversation at the moment (see New York Times, "Warning: Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm," May 17, 2014). How do/should professors at Christian universities provide "trigger warnings" to their students? Are we responsible for protecting students from some types of texts? Why or why not (cf. John Milton, Areopagitica)? What is a Christian film?

Structure of discussion: Dr. Croteau will moderate the session, keeping time and making sure the discussion moves along as smoothly and fairly as possible. There will be prepared questions for the panel members as a group. After a particular question is discussed by the members, the moderator will open the discussion of that issue to the attendees/auditors of the session. In that way, we can have an interactive discussion with the audience that is productive and addresses specific concerns of those attending.

Davis, Timothy Dwight

Timothy Dwight Davis
Beeson Divinity School

Caleb Stallings
Beeson Divinity School

Beyond the Infinite: Transcendence and Immanence in 2001 A Space Odyssey

This paper is an exploration into the themes of God's immanence and transcendence via Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick offers a compelling look into the nature of a God who is all-knowing and wholly Other, but who also intervenes into human affairs through direct encounter. This encounter with God will be explored through the various encounters characters have in the film with the Monolith. It is important to see this paper as a theological interpretation of the film rather than a strict exegesis. Kubrick was not in any way suggesting that there is a God in the Christian sense of the term. The goal of this paper is to read the film theologically, drawing out the themes and implications of 2001 while still respecting the original artistic visions of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick.

In part 1, Caleb Stallings will provide a background to the film, its historical and cinematic context, its co-writer and director Stanley Kubrick, the filmmakers' approach to the making of the movie, and the views expressed by Kubrick and Clarke on how audiences should receive it. He will also lay out the hermeneutical approach used in interpreting the film as a work of theology and philosophy. Finally, Caleb will explore the story of the space odyssey as a religious journey, focusing on specific scenes and technical aspects that highlight mankind's encounter with the unknown.

In part 2, Dwight Davis will explore the theological and philosophical implications of Kubrick's explorations of an encounter with an advanced and completely different race. Dwight will specifically focus on the Kierkegaardian notion of the "Infinite Qualitative Distinction" between God and man. This section will also engage with Karl Barth's notions of the encounter between God and man and God's efforts to bridge the gap of the Infinite Qualitative Distinction. The goal of this section is to draw together notions of sin, incarnation, redemption, transformation, and theosis into a coherent theological argument.

The goal for this paper is to provide a hermeneutical lens through which it will be possible to interpret other science-fiction films theologically. It is the authors' firm belief that sci-fi, at its best, is more than neat visual effects and good storytelling, although those things are certainly important to a sci-fi film. Sci-fi film has the potential to frame a discourse regarding humanity and the divine in a creative and compelling way. The authors believe that 2001 is one of the best examples of what science-fiction can accomplish.

DeCoste, Marcel

Marcel DeCoste
Associate Professor
University of Regina

The Despair and Hope of the Imago Dei: Lordship, Judgment, and Mercy in Aronofsky's Noah

As picture-book accounts emphasize, Noah's tale is one of rescue and hope, of a second creation born of the ark and of God's great promise: "I establish my covenant with you that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters" (Gen 9:11). Yet his story is also one of condemnation, a demonstration that the wages of sin are death. Humanity is doomed to die because "the wickedness of man was great in the earth" (6:5). Mankind's unregenerate sin calls forth God's comprehensive act of unmaking: "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth" (6:7). Though the subject of much controversy, Darren Aronofsky's cinematic rendering of this story is deeply sensitive to both aspects of the tale, but particularly haunted by the matter of judgment. Faced with the task of justifying the Flood, Aronofsky offers viewers a vision of human depravity so profound as to raise the specter of despair for his own protagonist. Agents of war, rapine, and global despoliation, men here are guilty of the evil Genesis assigns them. Far from arraigning the Creator for His act of deadly erasure, the film asks whether sinful humanity should be allowed to persist. Crucially, for Aronofsky's Noah, the answer is, for a time, no.

This is a film that treats the Deluge as a matter of both despair and hope, of justice and mercy. Having seen the sinfulness of men and of his own heart, Noah decides that man must die, lest a new creation be undone by his wickedness. "Mankind must end," he concludes, and this is so because the lesson of the Flood for him is fatal justice: "The time of mercy is past. Now our punishment begins." But Aronofsky does more than undertake a meditation on the two faces of the biblical God. He does so by posing the question of how sinful man, a being God declares made "in our image" (Gen 1:26), reflects that divine countenance. In presenting its tale in terms of the conflict between the justice and mercy it equally exemplifies, Noah, I argue, proffers the theological doctrine of the Imago Dei as central to both man's sinfulness and the annihilating judgment it fosters, and to the saving mercy that makes the Flood a source of rebirth. Certainly, all players in Aronofsky's drama believe men are made in God's image. Cain's progeny, as they steal, rape, enslave, and kill, defy a Creator whose likeness they still think they embody. Noah, as steward of creation and judge of man, is convinced he is doing God's will.

The Imago Dei thus informs the film's exploration of judgment and its ultimate presentation of vindicated mercy. It does so by way of three different interpretations of this divine likeness. As Gelin contends, humanity's likeness to God may first be located in our title to earthly dominion: "Man receives from God a royal function, a delegation to be lord of the animal kingdom" (31). This is the likeness Aronofsky's Tubal-cain, self-proclaimed king of all the earth, claims for himself. As he puts it, "man isn't ruled by the heavens. A man is ruled by his will," even to the point of usurping the divine prerogative to give and take life. In him, the Imago Dei becomes sin, a reiteration of Adam's reaching after godhead (Gen 3:4-5). Such sin calls forth both the Flood and the judgment of Noah, who thinks he images God by condemning man. Yet this courts a kinship with Tubal-cain; it places him, too, in the presumptuous role of deciding who lives and dies. It thus blinds him to a hopeful truth his first dreams of deluge made plain; if "fire consumes all, water cleanses," and this means mankind "get to start again, too." By attempting to act as God in the cause of justice, Noah becomes a force for despair, strife, and sin. Finally, though, he is unable, for justice's sake, to kill the future his newborn granddaughters promise: "I looked at those two little girls and all I had in my heart was love." Exemplifying the Imago Dei in Irenaeus's terms—as an approximation to the reason and love of the divine Logos, the Son (43-44)—Aronofsky's Noah, I argue, acts as saviour as he emulates what the film finally presents as the compassionate Creator's truest face, forging a pact in love that affords hope of sin's defeat.

Downing, Crystal L.

Distinguished Professor English & Film
Director, Faith & Reason Institute
Messiah College

Seeing the Medium: Martin Scorsese and C. S. Peirce

Of the sixty-plus books I have read in the burgeoning field known as "religion and film," I have discovered that most either highlight spiritual messages embedded in film stories or discuss the religious implications of spectatorship, some treating film as "religion itself." While valuing their theological, religious, and cultural insights, I notice that most of these works give only scant attention to the beauty created by cinematic technique, overlooking the medium-specific devices that shape meaning on the screen. Encouraging scholars—especially Christian scholars—to pay more attention to artistry of the medium itself, this paper makes a unique claim: that importance of the cinematic medium echoes Christian doctrine about the importance of Christ's body as the medium of salvation.

To construct my argument, I will begin discussing a scene near the end of Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980), when Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) hammers gems out of a championship belt he earned in the boxing ring. In the next scene, a jeweler reports that the extracted gems are nearly worthless, whereas the rare belt Jake just destroyed might have garnered the money he seeks. Like Jake, I will argue, Christians often extract gems of insight from movies, not realizing that brilliant profundities are more valuable when seen as part of the film's entire visual structure.

I will then discuss medium-specific techniques Scorsese employs in Raging Bull—framing devices, symbolic montage, high versus low key lighting, chiaroscuro effects, cinematic allusions—arguing that the medium of the film delivers a message about the importance of the medium itself. To verify this message, I will discuss Scorsese's closing dedication to his film professor, which follows verses about Christ's healing of a blind man: 'All I know is this: once I was blind and now I can see'(John IX, 24-26)." Those familiar with the Bible story will remember that Jesus had earlier called himself "the light of the world" (v. 5), later identifying himself to the healed man as "the Son of Man": "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he" (v. 37). The medium of light—"the one speaking with you"—is the message. This assumption—solidified in the early centuries of Christianity by the first four Ecumenical Councils—reinforces a basic assumption of film theory. As cinema scholar Marc Furstenau summarizes, "the unique material basis of the medium has continued to guide theorists, and has led to theoretical accounts that, while differing in many respects, share a fundamental assumption about the relation between form and effect, between the material basis of film and the cinematic experience." This parallel should make a difference to any scholar aware of "the unique material basis" of Christianity, whether she interprets the medium of salvation as a call to incarnate social justice or in terms of Christian orthodoxy: that God took on materiality in Jesus, who was born in the flesh, suffered and was crucified in the flesh, and became the medium of salvation when he rose from the dead. To ignore the medium is to miss the message. Indeed, as media specialist Michael Wetzel puts it, "McLuhan's 'The medium is the message' is as Christian as you can get."

To culminate my argument, I will end with a construct that has been appropriated by multiple film theorists: C. S. Peirce's union of medium, object, and interpretant in the triadic sign. Quoting Peirce's stunning (and entirely overlooked) proclamation that his triadic semiotic accords with Christian doctrine about the Trinity, I will present a Christian approach to cinema that differs from any yet published: an approach to faith and film that focuses not simply on audience reception and/or the extraction of religious insight, but one that reflects a Trinitarian understanding of perception itself.

Eaton, Michael

Michael Eaton
Associate Professor
California Baptist University

Brandon Dickerson
Spiral Films

Integrity: Integrating Faith Within Hollywood Careers

The principal objective of this panel is to discuss the integration of Christian faith within the careers of working professionals who have worked on a variety of secular and religious projects, from narrative and documentary films to commercials and music videos. What does it mean to integrate one's Christian faith within a career in Hollywood, whether working on secular or religious projects? How does our faith influence our choice of projects or content? How does the network of Christians working in Hollywood effectively organize to help each other? How would Jesus define success in Hollywood? What are the most important elements to being a witness within the film industry?

These and other topics will be explored by a distinguished panel including Baylor alumni and filmmaker Brandon Dickerson, CBU AssociateProfessor and Director Michael Eaton, and hopefully Act One Program executive director and producer Christina Lee Storm as well as producer Ralph Winter, who co-taught a course on Cinematic Storytelling with Michael Eaton last Spring, although Ralph is not sure that he will have internet connection in China to do the panel via Skype.

Eberl, Jason

Jason Eberl
Semler Chair for Medical Ethics
Marian University

The More Complex the Mind, the Greater the Need for the Simplicity of Play

In the classic Star Trek episode, "Shore Leave," the Enterprise crew encounters an "amusement planet" designed by an advanced civilization. While it may seem initially counterintuitive for highly intelligent beings to need a realm for fantasy entertainment, particular forms of play may be not only beneficial, but arguably necessary for intellectual, moral, and spiritual beings to flourish. Such edifying forms of play are not aimed towards mere pleasure-seeking, but rather lead one to a greater understanding of their own self, the world in which they live, and what reality may lie beyond this world. This view accords with the German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper's concept of leisure, in which beings capable of intellectually relating themselves to the world around them, as well as the deeper reality that transcends the physical world, must seek intellectual, moral, and spiritual fulfillment through forms of play that take us out of the workaday life, which can sublimate our sense of our own self and the reality which we inhabit.

Pieper's modern perspective on the value of leisure does not promote simple hedonism, but rather is grounded in more classical theories of human nature and happiness as expounded by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. As "rational animals," human beings are not satisfied with the pursuit of pleasure alone, but are driven to reflect upon the limitless possibilities of existence. Aquinas states, "The reason why the philosopher can be compared to the poet is that both are concerned with wonder." As Pieper articulates, to fully give into our sense of wonder and explore the "final frontier" of reality and consciousness, we need to break out of the cycle of productivity and consumption and allow ourselves the leisure necessary to contemplate the universe and our place within it. Aristotle notes that "we work in order to be at leisure." But leisure is not simply "recharging our batteries." Rather, it provides time for us to reflect upon those questions which are all-important to humanity, but which do not produce immediate, tangible goods that can be traded on the floor of the stock exchange: Leisure is not idly twiddling one's thumbs. Yet, Pieper finds there to be a "festive" element to human leisure that allows us to develop ourselves intellectually and culturally in a way that simple hedonism fails to provide: "The leisure of man includes within itself a celebratory, approving, lingering gaze of the inner eye on the reality of creation." Leisure, in all its proper forms, is a necessary element that must be reintegrated into the modern concept of a "happy life."

In this paper, I will review Pieper's concept of leisure and examine a particular form of play that is quite popular in contemporary society—science-fiction media, and Star Trek as a representative example of such media—in order to determine to what extent this form entertainment may contribute to a better understanding of ourselves, the world in which we live, and the reality that may lie beyond this world. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry once quoted Ray Bradbury as stating that "science fiction may be one of the last places in our society where the philosopher can roam just as freely as he chooses." This paper will explicate the ways in which various episodes and films across the entire Star Trek franchise explore the theme of human happiness and fulfillment, going beyond the pursuit of pleasure alone to a more enriched concept of human flourishing as we continue "to boldly go" in search of new intellectual, moral, and spiritual insights.

Echelbarger, David

David Echelbarger
Assistant Professor
University of Mary

John Spano
Assistant Professor
McLennan Community College

Film, Moral Transformation, and the Moment of Conversion

Film makers and watchers alike tacitly agree that film can serve as a medium for moral transformation. According to this common view, film does more than awaken one to the horrors of injustice or the beauty of courage. Watching a film can actually transform one's desires to hate injustice or love courage. Without such a view, critics would not denounce films that depict glamorously vicious ways of life nor would they extol films for their moving depictions of virtue and beauty.

The view that an episodic event, such as watching a film, can affect a fundamental reorientation of one's desires is not new. Augustine recounts that his encounter with Cicero's Hortensius redirected his desires towards wisdom. Similarly, Plato holds that one becomes good by experiencing the Beautiful. At the same time, this understanding of moral transformation is at odds with Aristotelian moral psychology, which is the basis for contemporary work in virtue ethics and moral education.

The tension between the supposed transformative nature of film and Aristotle's account of moral formation arises because, on his view, moral transformation occurs over time. Aristotle distinguishes between intellectual and moral virtues. Intellectual virtues are learned through teaching. Moral virtues, in contrast, are acquired through proper habituation. One not only "learns" (grasps) what is noble, but one must also develop an appropriate affective response to the good. Thus, becoming virtuous requires sustained participation in specific actions that eventually produce appropriate emotional responses. One can only become virtuous by practicing acts of virtue. The problem is that this model does not seem to adequately account for momentary encounters as a means for rightly directing one's desires. A Platonic account, however, can explain our common attitude towards film's transformative potential. According to at least one reading of Plato, moral transformation occurs through a vision of some intellectual truth that causes an immediate transformation of a person. On this account, the sight of the Just or Good is sufficient to reorder one's desires.

In this paper, we seek to rescue Aristotelianism from this apparent deficiency by explaining film's potential to affect our character while remaining faithful to Aristotle's understanding of moral education. Ultimately, we find that in addition to accounting for the transformative power of film, the Aristotelian model of moral education is better able to situate the role that film plays (and does not play) in moral growth and development.

Ewing, James Blake

James Blake Ewing
instructional Specialist
McLennan Community College

Faith, Hope and Love: Replacing the Secular with the Sacred in Kieslowski's Three Colors Trilogy

Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors Trilogy is built around the three virtues symbolized by the three colors of the French flag: liberty (blue), equality (white) and fraternity (red). However, instead of making each film portray positive aspects about these virtues, Kieslowski complicates and critiques these values. For example, in Three Colors: Blue, the virtue of freedom is turned on its head with the protagonist gains a new-found freedom when her husband and daughter die in a car wreck. A number of readings of the film have examined this subversive thematic strand throughout the trilogy.

This paper would argue that Kieslowski is subtly replacing these secular, governmental/societal values with the sacred values of faith, hope and love as expressed in the Christian religion. In Blue, Julie's husband was in the process of composing a song for the unification of Europe. As the film progresses, she finishes it and the lyrics of the song is the 1st Corinthians passage from the Bible in its original Greek. As the final verse says: "So now faith. hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." -1st Corinthians 13:13 (ESV)

This paper will trace the idea that these three films critique and twist these secular values in order to replace them with these sacred values. Each film demonstrates aspects of these values. In Blue, Julie's character loses faith in the world around her to the point that she refuses to put her trust in anyone. The film ends with a montage where she finally lets people back into her life.

In the second film, Three Colors: White, the protagonist Karol befriends a fellow Polish countryman named Mikolaj who has lost his sense of hope, so much so that he tries to hire Karol to kill him since he's not brave enough to commit suicide. Karol instead slowly begins to restore Mikolaj's joke and hope for life, making him a co-owner in his up and coming business.

Perhaps the most positive of the trilogy, Three Colors: Red is a film that simultaneously looks at the breakdown of relationship while also centering on the building of an unusual friendship. It's worth noting that in the Greek, the word used in the 1st Corinthians 13 passage has a specific connotation. It is the word agape and it specifically means a charitable, selfless love. The film explores the odd relationship between Valentine and the Judge as an example of this love, contrasting it to other ideas of love that break down through the film.

The trilogy concludes in what the essay will argue is a deeper, divine moment of charity. The six core characters from the the three film are on a boat the crashes, they are the only ones who survive the accident and are brought ashore. It's a director's act of charity towards his character that demonstrates a deeper, more cosmic form of charity.

Foley, Michael

Michael Foley
Associate Professor of Patristics
Baylor University

Three and a Half Kinds of Christian Film

The relationship between cinema and the Christian faith is a long one that has produced a curious variety of artistic achievements. In an effort to catalog these achievements and to provide a hermeneutical map for viewing film, I propose that there are three and a half kinds of Christian movies: 1) Explicitly Christian (e.g., biblical movies or saints' stories, 2) Implicitly Christian (e.g., the movies of Frank Capra or John Ford or, in some cases, Alfred Hitchcock), 3) Unintentionally Christian (the Truman Show), and 3½) Parasitically Christian, secular movies that feed off the Christian narrative but without advancing the Gospel (e.g., the latest Superman iterations). We may also add two other categories which, even though they are not Christian, are related to our topic: 1) Spuriously Christian movies, which are not Christian but are (mis)interpreted by Christians to be so; and 2) thoroughly Godless Movies, which are nevertheless valuable in showing the audience what a world without God looks like.

Forasteros, JR.

JR. Forasteros
Teaching Pastor
Beavercreek Church of the Nazarene

Bryne Lewis
Philosophy Instructor
Luzerne County Community College

Clay Morgan
Social Sciences Instructor
University of Pittsburg

Michael Scott Fissel II

What's Gotten Into Us: Possession, Haunting and the Christian Tradition in Recent American Cinema"

This panel will be moderated by Dr. S. J. Murray.

In the last 30 years, horror cinema has become largely Christianized, especially those films that feature demonic possession. Meanwhile, the Biblical tradition of possession is largely ignored by most American denominations, fearing charges of primitivism and superstition. Those that do are often blind to the abuses of power that too easily accompany the practice of so-called spiritual warfare. Our panel will discuss the Christian shift in horror cinema, exploring how film has appropriated the rhetoric and iconography of the Christian tradition. We will also consider the American culture's continued fascination with the genre and debate what merit horror films have for those practicing within the Christian tradition and what light these films, and the popular beliefs that surround them, might shed on spiritual experience in general.

Speaker 1: Bryne Lewis

One only has to survey a list recent horror movies to observe the extent to which Christianity has been popularly implicated in the portrayal of demonic possession, previously the province of Satanism and the occult. However, the involvement of the Church is usually assigned to rogue agents, individuals at odds with their institution or in a state of faith crisis. In addition, the depiction of possession continues to escalate, becoming more blatantly and outrageously supernatural. Combined, these trends indicate a general acceptance that "real" spiritual experiences are unrecognized or rejected by the very Church they are affiliated with. I offer postmodern philosophy of religion, concerned with spiritual experience above specific doctrinal commitments, provides potential ground for a conversation unthreatened by accusations of primitivism and inclusive of personal beliefs in the supernatural.

Speaker 2: Clay Morgan

Study after study affirms how haunted we are. More than three times as many people believe in the paranormal today than in the 1970s when The Exorcist movie hit theaters and forever changed the cultural definition of horror. According to a 2005 Gallup poll, forty-five percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 believe in ghosts.

Cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware of the fundamental metaphysical outlook shared by all humans. We're never going to stop being obsessed with the afterlife and by extension the supernatural. As Western nations continue to become post-Christian, our churches may get emptier but our Cineplexes will remain packed, and in so doing remain a central forum for some of the biggest spiritual and cultural conversations of our time. I argue that by addressing questions of evil and consistently framing the conversation in a Christian worldview, horror cinema has become a key communicator of spiritual possibilities and even realities for the large population of people identified by Baylor researchers Christopher Bader, F. Carson Mencken, and Joseph Baker as somewhere in between naturalistic skeptics and committed religious adherents.

Speaker 3: Mikey Fissel

Though horror is traditionally framed in religious language, science-fiction often employs horrific elements in its storytelling. Long-running series like Doctor Who, LOST, Babylon 5, the Star Trek franchises, and films like Event Horizon, employ science fiction to investigate the plausibility of the supernatural, but represent these experiences as explainable science, anomaly, or simply "unknown."

I argue that because science fiction horror evaluates these experiences in purely naturalistic terms, they foster misrepresentation and even outright dismissal of supernatural worldviews, including most Christian worldviews. I advocate for careful reading of science-fiction horror in a way that problematizes their purely naturalistic worldviews and makes space for supernatural readings of possession experiences.

Speaker 4: JR. Forasteros

Since the 1970s, possession films have shifted to become explicitly Christian stories of the demonic. Functioning as morality plays, the victims of possession are often guilty of not being good enough - they dabble in the occult or simply don't attend Church. Following Scott Poole's methodology in Monsters in America, this cinematic shift evinces a deeply conservative cultural backlash to the passing of Christendom in the wake of modernity. An analysis of these films demonstrates that we are deeply uneasy about the loss of religious certainty in our culture. By engaging these demonic stories, we can connect with the existential angst they speak to in their viewers, and address this deeply-seated anxiety.

Gelzer-Govatos, Asher Samuel

Asher Samuel Gelzer-Govatos
Graduate Student in Comparative Literature
Washington University in St. Louis

Non-Prophet Organization: Charlatans, Tricksters, and Other Preachers in American Film

In his last work, Charisma, cultural critic and sociologist Philip Rieff traces the decline of the religious ideal of charisma, which according to him consists of a grace tied inextricably to interdictory commands. The Judeo-Christian tradition, Rieff argues, has always tied authority to the binding effect of the law. Thanks to what Rieff dubs the "post-Protestant ethos", however, thinkers like Max Weber and Sigmund Freud appropriated charisma but changed it to fit their own ideas. Because of the final triumph of the therapeutic model of living over the religious/ethical model, charisma has degenerated to the point where it no longer has any reference to true social formation through covenant. Instead what we are left with is what Rieff terms "spray-on charisma", an organizing principle based on personal attributes rather than a divine mission.

This evaporation of true charisma has had its impact on all areas of modern life, from self help gurus to fascist dictators to fast talking CEOs. Yet nowhere has this ideal been twisted in so grotesque a way as in t he figure of the freewheeling preacher, a distinctly American character who claims religious authority while simultaneously serving his own ends. Having the form of Godliness but not its power, these hucksters pull in the unsuspecting sheep only to devour them to satiate their own greed. However often this type of preacher exists in real life, the stock character has left a deep impression on the American psyche. Naturally this archetype has been thoroughly explored in film, the defining American medium of the 20th Century.

Many movies have centered around or prominently featured an oily preacher bent on personal gain. I wish to consider three in particular which stand out for their chilling and insightful portraits of charisma gone wrong: Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter, John Huston's adaptation of Wise Blood, and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (which has the bonus of including two contrasting studies in spray-on charisma, a preacher and a businessman). Through careful examination of these films it is possible to build a picture of the pitfalls of modern charisma, as well as consider options for avoiding its lure. As a foil for these three, I will also discuss Robert Duvall's The Apostle, which at first seems to present this type of figure but then reverses, revealing a central character who falls more truly into the traditional mold of the Christian charismatic.

In The Night of the Hunter Robert Mitchum portrays Harry Powell, a sinister thief who hides his intentions behind a veil of piety. Though Powell manages to fool many with his religious front, the emptiness of his claims is obvious. He relies entirely on his own intuition to discern the "will of God", which in actuality means he follows his whims. His spray-on charisma ingratiates him to a vulnerable widow and her community, but others see through his ruse: in particular a wizened old woman whose devotion to the interdictory of the Bible helps her avoid Powell's charms. Huston's Wise Blood features two characters who tap into the charismatic huckster mode : both Brad Dourif's Hazel Motes and Harry Dean Stanton's Asa Hawks seem detached from true interdictory commands : but it is Hawks, by virtue of his hypocritical cash-mongering, who emerges as the true charlatan.

By contrast with the utterly corrupt characters in The Night of the Hunter and Wise Blood, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) seems to possess some modicum of real faith. Nevertheless his greed still leads him into conflict with oil man Daniel Plainview, a series of confrontations that give shape to the plot of There Will Be Blood. Eli has charisma, to be sure, but his showmanship in the pulpit lacks the depth that comes with interdictory commands. Little wonder, then, that Plainview, no less a showman than Sunday, sees through the preacher's smoke and mirrors to the insecurity underneath.

Apart from all of these stands E.F., the titular apostle of Robert Duvall's film, played by Duvall himself. Though E.F. exhibits many of the surface characteristics of a charlatan preacher : the showmanship and vigor of the spray-on charismatic : he refuses to unyoke himself from the traditional interdictory commands of the Christian tradition. For E.F. transgression against the law leads to exile, but redemption remains possible through contrition and a return to the laws of God. I argue that Duvall's film makes it clear that the contemporary type of the charismatic preacher does not of necessity lead to charlatanism, provided that it remains attached to Judeo-Christian credal organization.

Gibson, Brent

Brent Gibson
Professor of English
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor

Transcendence and the Search for Meaning in the Films of Wes Anderson

The films of Wes Anderson may seem at first glance to have little to say about the life of faith. The universes he creates make no mention of God, nor do his characters seem to have any interest in what lies beyond human experience. There is no hint of divine mystery or transcendence, at least not as the word is defined by Paul Schrader in his groundbreaking Transcendental Style in Film. Certainly Anderson's style bears no resemblance to the spare filmmaking of Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson that Schrader finds necessary for the expression of the transcendent in film.

However, as Robert Johnston helpfully notes, there are two types of transcendence. One is an expression of the "Wholly Other" as described by Schrader—that which is by definition beyond the immanent. But the second is what Johnston calls transcendence with a small "t", and it can be expressed in terms of "the human possibility of exceeding our limitations, of experiencing wholeness within brokenness, of glimpsing how life was meant to be but is not." This type of transcendence has much in common with the jouissance of Jacques Lacan and can be a helpful tool for understanding how Anderson's films intersect with the life of faith.

Anderson's films are shot through with the search for meaning. They do give glimpses of how life was meant to be, and of wholeness within brokenness. His films are very honest about the existential loneliness and brokenness of the characters who inhabit them. These characters are often adrift, lonely, and searching for meaning and purpose in life. In this state, to the extent that redemption and salvation are found, they are found in relationships— friendship, family, romance. The search for wholeness leads outward, if not upward, and speaks to the deep need of human beings to connect with one another. It is here that the intersection between Anderson's films and the life of faith is found. Again to quote Johnston, "the human and the theological…are so intertwined that to speak authentically of one is to engage the other." This paper will explore the moments of transcendence in Anderson's films as illustrations of Lacan's jouissance, particularly as they relate to the characters' search for meaning and purpose in their lives.

Givens, J. Ruth

J. Ruth Givens
Azusa Pacific University

Much Ado About Everything: Lost Opportunuties in Faith-based Films

This paper will discuss ways in which faith-based films have failed to penetrate and challenge the suspicions of a society that holds Christianity in contempt. These films have too often left their audiences, both Christian as well as non-Christian,detached and frustrated. Viewers outside the faith interpret the film The Son of God as myth because the familiar narrative appears archaic and abstract. However, I believe films can actually transcend the presuppositions that the supernatural can be comprehended on the screen by creating films that are attached to a concrete reality which these audiences require.

While the media declares 2014 the year of the Bible, citing the success of recent Hollywood films, the flurry of attention seems ostensibly based on fiscal rather than spiritual progress, since the culture at large appears essentially unmoved by these films. Whereas some might claim that the fervent responses resulting from their success indicates a resurgence of interest in the gospel, others have challenged these assumptions for good reasons: The films accommodate a preconceived audience of believers, speaking the language that only they hear. Although attempting to embrace one's faith collectively through film may be in itself a worthy goal, the intentions can't be ignored, which are to validate the Christian community rather than speak to those outside its orbit.

Christian films makers who hope to present faith through their art, synthesizing both the natural and supernatural elements of reality, are faced with the challenge of reaching an audience where "religious feeling has become, if not atrophied, at least vaporous and sentimental" (565). Too often these well-meaning Christian artists take the path of least resistance, supposing that "because of [their] beliefs, [they] are somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality. [They] think that the eyes of the church or the Bible of [their] particular theology have already done the seeing for them" (566).

Therefore, these films must begin speaking to the understanding and language of the public in terms they not only find comprehensive but inclusive as well. In other words, many of the films created by Christian film makers merely "re-arrange the essential vision into satisfying patterns, avoiding the hard work of penetrating the natural world as it is" (566).

The familiar Christian audience accepts the patterns, the film reaches its goal, and the outcome appears successful; yet for those who sensibilities incorporate a larger vision of reality including the natural and supernatural, the concrete and abstract, these films deaden, rather than awaken the senses and fail to communicate the real life drama inherent in the message. Dorothy Sayers calls this form of aesthetics pseudo-art, because it attempts to work the audience into a state of mind in which they will believe and feel and do as they are told. To Sayers, "this pseudo-art does not really communicate power to us; it merely exerts power over us (377). Audiences can either accept the reality presented to them, or they trivialize its meaning as a myth among many others.

One would hope to find moments of transcendence in films, and they often do so in elegant ways - the Bishop's mercy extended to Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, or the forgiveness toward the unrepentant nun in Philomena - in which audience recognizes the divine in the concrete realities of human actions. These are films that make much ado about everything significant to the human condition.

Goldman, Shalom

Shalom Goldman
Duke University

Redemption in the Holy Land: Johnny Cash's Israel films

In 1971 John and June Carter Cash traveled to Israel to film " Gospel Road," a documentary-style film about the life of Jesus. Completed after great hardship and considerable expense, "Gospel Road" proved to be a commercial failure. But because of the efforts of Campus Crusade for Christ and other organizations the film was widely seen; Cash's biographers estimate that it was shown in 40,000 churches and on hundreds of campuses. The film's music, by Cash and Kris Kristofferson, helped ensure the films popularity and longevity. And the music and film together were components on the nascent " Jesus Movement" of the 1970s.

In the early 1990s the Cashes returned to Israel, now accompanied by their children, and made another film, "Return to the Promised Land."

This film, shown on some national TV outlets, presented modern Israel's biblical background and was influential in shaping the contours of American Christian Zionism.

In my paper I will describe and analyze these films and contextualize them within late 20th Century American religious history.

Green, Lance

Lance Green
Luther Seminary

Aronofsky's The Fountain and Mircea Eliade: The Union of Myth and History

Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain (2006) is a beautiful science fiction film that interestingly plays with the themes of science, God, death, and history. The film is made of three historically separate narratives: a conquistador on a mission from his queen to find the Tree of Life, a scientist seeking a cure for the cancer that plagues his wife, and a space traveler heading into the nebula Xibalba. Within these seemingly fractured narratives are constant themes fundamental to the human experience and the myths that we use to interpret them. Though the film admittedly borrows from the Scriptures, particularly the fall narrative, it seems to be after the creation of a myth otherwise than Judaism or Christianity. I argue that The Fountain is consistent with Mircea Eliade's understanding of the sacred and the profane and the eternal return in primitive myth. Furthermore, the way in which Aronofsky uses these fundamental myths to create a new one reveals a theology consistent with Eliade's interpretation of Christian salvation of history: that the sacred becoming profane is not only a trans-historical event, but one that unites myth and history into one.

Harris, Adrienne Marie

Adrienne Marie Harris
Associate Professor
Baylor University

'Finding Hope in God's Stone Quarry:' Christianity and Meaning in Post- Communist Czech Cinema

'Finding Hope in God's Stone Quarry:' Christianity and Meaning in Post-Communist Czech Cinema" uses the medium of film to analyze the positive role of Christianity in the lives of displaced workers who find themselves struggling to survive in peripheral factory towns. When communism collapsed in 1989, the factories central in industrial regions lost their metaphorical meanings and economic significance, becoming privately-owned worksites and laying off large segments of their workers. Many working-class men in industrial regions have faced more difficult transitions than women because they, as idealized workers under socialism, were more invested in the system and lost more from its collapse; many have struggled with long-term unemployment. Through an analysis of common themes in films released roughly 15 years after the Velvet Revolution, this article analyzes how men cope when excluded from the masculine, public space of the factory. How does Christian faith help men who find themselves ill-equipped for life in the industrial periphery after the post-1989 transition and, by extension, how does it impact the family unit? The author argues that Christianity helps men cope and find meaning after the narratives that made spaces "great" became irrelevant. This paper draws from and contributes to recent work in the field of Czech gender studies and functions as a Czech case study on the relationship between gender, Christianity, and public space in former Eastern Bloc.

Hays, Joshua

Joshua Hays
Research Fellow, Institute for Studies of Religion
Baylor University

From "Crude Matter" to Midi-chlorians: Shifting Perceptions of Embodiment within the Star Wars Saga

Popular films serve as something of a cultural thermostat, both gauging and displaying the environmental conditions of their given contexts and influencing those same conditions for subsequent years. Shifting attitudes and assumptions within films, especially within a single franchise, therefore serve as powerful indicators of cultural change. These prevailing cultural currents often grapple with deeply spiritual concerns, even within movies that are not explicitly religious. In fact, movies created as "pure" entertainment likely exert an even stronger spiritual influence than explicitly apologetic films, as C.S. Lewis described (speaking of books) in his essay "Christian Apologetics." Films provide an opportunity for faithful engagement with the deepest spiritual concerns of the current "spiritual-but-not-religious" generation.

By way of example, this paper will consider the theological anthropology implicit within one of the most popular and influential film franchises of all time, Star Wars. Purchased by Disney for over $4 billion in 2012, the saga is poised to expand its already immense cultural footprint with new installments beginning next year. The six films thus far have dealt, albeit obliquely, with dozens of spiritual questions. Some of these themes play out consistently over the arc of all six films, while others demonstrate striking discontinuity, reflecting cultural changes over the four decades in which films have been released. These shifting perceptions have special significance, and one them concerns theological anthropology. In The Empire Strikes Back, released in 1980, Jedi Master Yoda instructs his young apprentice Luke Skywalker, "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter." He thereby instills in his apprentice, and by extension, the audience, a Gnostic view that denigrates the physical, idealizing spiritual liberation from the constraints of embodiment. By the time of The Phantom Menace in 1999, however, cultural attitudes had shifted. In our galaxy, the Human Genome Project was nearing completion, and in the Star Wars universe, Jedi Master Qui-Gon explained the Force to young Anakin Skywalker in terms of microscopic life forms residing within every living cell. This materialist understanding marks a radical departure from the dualism of 1980.

Christian anthropology offers a third, more holistic approach to the human person. Both Old and New Testaments present the person as an integrated union of body and spirit. This understanding of embodiment mediates between the spiritualism of The Empire Strikes Back and the materialism of The Phantom Menace. Further, it communicates that how we treat bodies, both our own and those of others, has profound spiritual significance, with implications for Christian reflection on contemporary issues including medicine, poverty, sexuality, and violence.

Hays, Rebecca W. Poe

Rebecca W. Poe Hays
Graduate Student
Baylor University

Who is the "Bad Guy"? Frozen, Maleficent, Dracula Untold, and the Truth of Revisionist Retellings

Since the 1989 publication of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's children's book The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, generations of children have been learning in reading class that not every story is as black and white as it may initially appear. The 2003 Broadway debut of the hit musical Wicked, the subtitle of which reads "The Untold Story of the Witches in Oz," further solidified this lesson for enthusiastic young audiences. Over the last year, revisionist retellings have taken the silver screen by storm. In November 2013, Disney premiered Frozen, a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen" that quickly became the highest grossing animated film of all time, and in May 2014 the live-action film Maleficent opened at box offices where it also became a commercial success. In a completely separate genre from these two family features, Universal Pictures plans to release its drama-horror Dracula Untold in October 2014. Binding these three films together is the shared intent to "tell an old story anew," as the prologue to Maleficent describes it. In each film, a classic villain (the Snow Queen, Maleficent, Count Dracula) becomes—if not an outright hero—at least a very sympathetic protagonist.

While revisionist retellings such as Frozen and Maleficent are generally popular successes, they are not without their critics. Members of the evangelical community have expressed deep-seated concerns about the way that Maleficent in particular undermines clear designations of right and wrong, with one critic labeling Maleficent "Textbook Postmodern Deconstructionism" and warning that it undermines traditional morality. The very premise of these revisionist films is that the line between heroes and villains is often a blurred one. Though Christians should indeed be prepared to defend biblical notions of good, sin, and absolute truth, the Christian community should also be open to gleaning valuable lessons from the "postmodern deconstructionism" of these revisionist retellings.

In this paper, I will explore the way revisionist retellings of well-known stories can challenge but ultimately enrich one's understanding of evil, human nature, and the biblical text that serves as the foundation for Christian theology. First, I will examine the way that the revisionist films Frozen, Maleficent, and Dracula Untold portray evil and its cause(s) and compare these portrayals with biblical teaching. Next, I will build on this theology of evil in order to explore how it contributes to our understanding of human nature and the undeniable human propensity to sin. Finally, I will draw conclusions about how the complex understanding of heroes and villains that revisionist retellings impart actually has the potential to bring greater clarity and depth of insight to our reading of Christian Scripture.

Heath, Sam Heath

Sam Heath Heath
Graduate Student
University of Virginia

Based On the Book: From Silver Tongue to Silver Screen

Many films, and increasingly so in the last half-century, are based partially or entirely on books, especially novels. This paper asks if there something inherently religious, especially Christian, about the written word. Are the "people of the book" obligated to exactly represent the written word, or is there artistic license? What religious implications are there when considering what is "lost in translation" when a story goes from book to film? How does moving from word to image mirror Jesus' incarnational appearance? How is it different?

There are classic based-on-the-book films such as Schindler's List and The Shawshank Redemption and there are recent forays: Doubt, The Reader, Life of Pi, and Ender's Game. This paper will focus on The Reader (2008) and Life of Pi (2012)."Genre" is a word that (like "garage") maintains its French pronunciation and history. Meaning "kind," this word has oft been applied to literature, a field that compartmentalizes itself for the sake of communication. Two genres, parable and Vergangenheitsbewältigung (German for "struggling with mastering the past") provide space for authors and filmmakers to explore morality. The films The Reader and Life of Pi offer a method and motive to guide the reader on a though exercise on how to evaluate past sins and presently make moral decisions.

The Reader is a parable written by a law professor to help a new generation consider if it is possible to both understand and condemn an action, specifically the German citizens' involvement in the Holocaust. Roland Barthes' essay "The Death of the Author" makes a literary statement that is now a creedal battle c ry for more than just literature. Removing the author and proclaiming the apotheosis of the reader is the primary question in The Reader. Or, we could rephrase it: Who has the right to judge? The punch of this question is lost in the movement from book to film, specifically because of the film's ending that is inconsistent with the novel.

Life of Pi is the beautifully shot poster-movie for pluralism, but of the worst sort. The faith in Life of Pi is inclusion to the point of disrespecting the historical religions. This film, in contrast to The Reader, expertly maintains the message of the novel, even if that message is untenable and precarious.

The religious theme of The Reader is relativism while Life of Pi espouses pluralism. While similar, each of these "faiths" is different and in the move from book to film is forgotten in one instance and preserved in the other. Both stories are parables that both give guidance for how to overcome the past. Each offers a solution, a creed, a faith. The message, however, can be either lost in or enhanced by the medium. The faith proposals of each film are inconsistent with orthodox Christianity, yet each film also makes a faith statement in how it chose to adapt the novel. People of the book, whether Christians, Jews, Muslims, or others, need to consider the religious repercussions when morphing a tale from the silver tongue to the silver screen.

Heckenlively, Timothy

Timothy Heckenlively
Senior Lecturer
Baylor University

The Apotropaic Aesthetic and Christian Kerygma

Students of ancient art and architecture are familiar with the apotropaic, talismans and images that avert terrors by their own terrible design. In this paper, I shall argue that recent film heroes, especially in action and fantasy genres, have taken on an increasingly pre-Christian, apotropaic quality. The result is a near Manichean dualism that enervates heroism. At the same time, this aesthetic opens valuable apologetic opportunities to return to the kerygma of the Gospel.

Euripides' Heracles offers a lucid example of the ancient apotropaic aesthetic. As Heracles performs his final exploits, his family is threatened by Lycus ("wolf"). Heracles returns and destroys him, but at that very moment, Hera sends Lyssa ("wolfish-madness"), a goddess of violent rage who impels him to destroy his own family. The power to avert monsters implies the potential to act as one. The Ps.-Hesiodic Shield of Heracles offers similar reflections on the hero. Horrific apotropaic images reveal the underlying nature of its bearer. Similar themes appear in Homer. Achilles appetite for death and honor are as deadly to the Achaeans as to any foe.

Christopher Nolan's vision of Batman is perhaps the most eloquent epitome of this theme in recent cinema. As the Joker says succinctly, "You complete me." In the end, the Dark Knight is forced to concede the horrific similitude. He takes responsibility for the crimes of Harvey Dent, telling Chief Gordon that, "You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. I can do those things because I'm not a hero…." To stop villain who wants merely to see the world burn, it takes a hero who is also willing to operate beyond traditional morality and burn the world when necessary.

Neitzsche and the "war on terror" are obvious subtexts here. My concern, however, is with the co-dependent, apotropaic bond between hero and villain. Other examples of this aesthetic abound. An ideology of mutant exceptionalism, of pride in alterity, drives both Dr. Xavier and Magneto. Uncanny biographic parallels and dark magic bind together Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. All three Iron Man movies pit Tony Stark against equally brilliant and erratic technologist innovators. Captain America, Red Skull, and the Winter Soldier share the powers and concordant temptations of Dr. Erskine's transhumanism. Zach Snyder's Man of Steel must destroy General Zod to prevent the genocide of earthlings, but his choice to do so is now the final genocide of Krypton. Peter Jackson's hobbits must lose most of the fortitude which Tolkien bestowed upon them that we may better comprehend their temptation to become Gollum, or worse.

This apotropaic dialectic naturally inclines to a simple dualism in which good and evil are seen as interlocked and interdependent modes of existence. Hero and villain become yin and yang. Monsters can become heroes (Shrek) and heroes can be monstrous (Hellboy). Such a cosmology stands at odds with the long-standing Christian tradition of denying essential existence to evil. It also tends to reduce the hero's choices and sacrifices to shades of gray between these polls. The hero begins to resemble Camus' Sisyphus, exultant in his endless, pointless labor.

Yet this aesthetic touches on partial truth. Our films give strong expression to a longing to find something either within or beyond ourselves capable of calming the chaos that engulfs us. Naturally, for the Christian, Christ is the proper end of that longing, but as man, not a superman. A traditional patristic view of the gospel is crucial. In the words of the ancient Orthodox Paschal hymn, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life." Christ is the only true apotropaic hero; all others are anticipations and imperfect echoes. But the death of death has critical corollaries. Christ has also restored creation to its original beauty and revealed evil as a product of our own sinfulness. As the second Adam, he is become the archetype of true humanity, a pattern repeated in the lives of the saints and martyrs throughout the ages. The healing we seek comes from within, not without. The challenge is to embrace the cross, die to self, and to be human.

Henry, Douglas V.

Douglas V. Henry
Baylor University

Martin's Thrones, Follett's Principalities, and Tolkien's Powers: A Tournament of Narratives in Film Adaptations of Three Modern Epics

At the heart of the piece is a critical treatment of three epic-scale novels that have been adapted into films—George Martin's Game of Thrones, Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Each film's narrative expresses a different, widely embraced way of being in the world (cynicism, tragic optimism, and charity, respectively), each finds correlates throughout our culture (including in the university), and each attracts the allegiance of our young. Only one, however, is compatible with Christian faith. Charity takes what is potentially right about its rival narratives and redeems it. It transforms latent strengths in both cynicism (the world really has gone awry and we should not pretend otherwise) and tragic optimism (not handwringing, but intelligent responses to human challenges can make things better), and it thereby wisely discerns the realities to which they point without succumbing to their weaknesses.

Hitchcock, Christina

Christina Hitchcock
Associate Professor of Practical Theology
University of Sioux Falls

A Submerged Story: Hans Frei, the Resurrection of Jesus and Big Fish

The movie Big Fish tells stories within stories, inviting the viewer to contemplate the relationship between story-telling and truth-telling, between facts and meaning, between historical reference and textual reference. The main character, a dying Edward Bloom, recounts his life and its most important moments to his wife, son, and daughter-in-law through a series of stories that seem bigger than life. They are stories that are, in Edward's words, full of "flavor" but, to his frustrated son Will, they seem to lack any facts. It is only as the whole story of his father's life unfolds that Will begins to realize that the flavor of the stories gives meaning to the facts, which are barren in and of themselves. And it is only as he becomes a participant in his father's storytelling that he learns how true his father's stories actually are.

Big Fish is really a movie that asks questions about the relationship between historical reality and the text that conveys that reality. Will Bloom is interested in the historical reality of his father's life : when and where he was born, where he went to school, when he got married, when his children were born, what he did during the war, and so on. Whenever he questions his father, Edward, about these historical events, he is told a story, and not just any story, a fish story, a tall tale. As a result, Will insists that his father is a liar, while his father just as vehemently insists that he is simply answering Will's questions.

The central story of the movie is told by Edward whenever he is asked about the day his son Will was born. The long and involved story that Edward tells of Will's birth day involves Edward catching a great fish using his wedding ring as a lure. Will finally asks for the "real" story about his birth and the doctor tells him that he was delivered quickly and easily, without complications, while his father was away in Wichita selling automated hands. At this point in the movie Will seems to prefer the doctor's story over his father's story because of its historical references. However, as the movie progresses, both Will and the viewer begin to realize that Edward's story does more than simply give an historical account; rather, in the words of Hans Frei, Edward's story speaks of "miraculous events that are in the nature of the case unique, incomparable, and impenetrable" (Theology and Narrative: Selected Essays, 203).

In his essay "Of the Resurrection of Christ" Frei discusses four different ways to understand the Easter event. The second type, the "historicist" view, understands the resurrection accounts to be "an absolutely accurate record of the thing that actually happened" (Theology and Narrative, 202). The subject matter in the texts is identical in every way to the historical event to which they refer. Frei rejects this view as too flat and instead insists that while the subject matter of these texts "is indeed the bodily resurrected Jesus," it is a subject matter that "is one to which human depiction and conception are inadequate" (Theology and Narrative, 203). The resurrection of Jesus can be spoken of as an "underwater" event. Much like the aquatic textuality of Big Fish, the resurrection defies typical, scientific narration. That is because the risenness of Jesus is something other than "the present form of this world" (2 Cor 7:31). Resurrection is the future in the present, and therefore it only partially overlaps with history as we know it now and is only partially contained by factorial redescription. Future time exceeds the terms of present time. Resurrection history is refracted through the waters of present temporality.

This paper will explore Frei's thesis in "Of the Resurrection of Christ" through the lens of Edward and Will Bloom in Big Fish. Edward and Will invite us to ask questions about the relationship between history and meaning, facts and beauty, knowledge and understanding. These questions, so whimsically put forth in Big Fish, are, of course, the most basic and most significant questions of theology as well.

Hohle, Phillip

Phillip Hohle
Asst. Professor of Communication
Concordia University Texas

Kathleen Lipovski-Helal
Adjunct Professor, Department of Humanities
St. Edwards University

Rebecca Jones
Instructor of Communications
Ouachita Baptist University

Faith, Film and Higher Education

Educators at faith-based institutions are learning to use film as a means to include deep issues of faith and religion in the cultural conversations on university campuses. Three professors have independently developed faith and film courses for their respective Catholic, Lutheran, and Baptist universities—each employing a different model for the use of popular cinematic narratives in the overall program for educating Christian leaders. They will discuss their choices and challenges in developing their respective courses and the outcomes from each. This comparative approach will provide insight for others who might consider similar approaches to stimulating discourse about the connections between film and faith on campuses of any kind.

Teaching Faith and Film: Developing Inspiration at St. Edward's University

Kathleen Lipovski-Helal, PhD

Like many Catholic universities today, St. Edward's University takes seriously the Catholic interest in and respect for other cultures, religions, and belief systems. The challenge for professors who make faith a topic in their classes in such universities is addressing a broad audience of those who hold vastly different beliefs, from Islamic perspectives to agnosticism and atheism. In a culture that generally devalues religion, the further challenge is inspiring students to think of faith in new ways, and to explore it as a legitimate framework from which to understand the world. In teaching my film courses, I have learned that the way to address students coming from such different backgrounds in a culture hostile to religious belief systems is to address what inspires them the most. I have found that empowering students with the critical tools to analyze the ways in which film shapes viewers' perceptions using films that redefine our culture's definitions of happiness, suffering, and death, brings students together, regardless of their diverse religious and cultural backgrounds, and often changes their perspectives on the world.

Cinema and Religion at Concordia University Texas: A Community- learning Hybrid

Philip Hohle, PhD (ABD)

Not unlike secular institutions, classrooms at faith-based universities are often populated with students of the millennial generation who hold a weak assessment of the role of religion and faith in their world. At Concordia University, we believe that popular film is an ideal way to return God to the daily conversation of the less religious student. Three values drove the development of this course. First, popular film would be used to examine religious issues—as opposed to the growing supply of good, but obviously Christian film titles now available. Secondly, this discussion of religion and faith would be begin in the student's world and not start with an esoteric exposition on religious doctrine or normative ethical frames. Thirdly this course would be opened free to the public.

At an upscale restaurant-type movie theater on Monday nights in the spring of 2014, an average of thirty members of the community participated with the full-tuition student in discussing a select set of evocative films. The course was well received—even gaining positive feedback from three proclaimed atheists who chose to take this elective course.

OBU at Sundance: A Course on Film & Faith

Rebecca Jones, PhD (ABD)

Ouachita Baptist University, a small college in southwest Arkansas, does not currently offer a film program. However, the university recently awarded strategic grant funding to support the development of a new course on film and faith. The course launched in the spring of 2014 and aimed to take students to the Sundance Film Festival in order to experience one of the most influential festivals in the country. Beyond immersing students in Sundance, the course invited students to engage in discussion, debate, reflection, and analysis about the impact of film and the intersection of faith, film, and culture.

A small group of enthusiastic student film buffs and budding filmmakers signed up for the course. Together with two faculty members and the university's president and first lady, the students traveled to Park City, Utah where they wrestled with difficult themes and came away changed by the films they experienced. Following their adventures at Sundance, the students and faculty spent a semester unpacking the experience and growing in their ability to appreciate and analyze film. This section of the panel will show how a course of this nature has meaning and value—even for students who do not envision themselves as filmmakers.

Holdier, A.G.

A.G. Holdier
Teacher and Program Director
Minidoka Christian Education Association

Raising a Knight of Faith: Kierkegaardian Reflections on Three Cinematic Fairy Tales

For the Christian parent, there is perhaps no greater concern than that one's children will grow into their own relationship with God—a concern only amplified by the impossibility of forcibly transmitting one's own faith onto another. Regardless of how often a child is forced to attend a church service or memorize a Bible verse, the subjective acceptance of personal faith : of the sort towards which Hebrews 11 speaks, for example : can never be made by anyone but the individual child. What sort of role, then, does the parent play in this process? This paper seeks to answer this question by, in the words of C.S. Lewis "dipping it in myth so as to see it more clearly."

Once upon a time, Søren Kierkegaard began the prelude to his most treasured work, Fear and Trembling, with that classic fairy-tale introduction, immediately launching his reader into an imaginative retelling of Abraham's wrestling with a most perplexing topic: the genuine nature of faith as an individual's subjective relationship to God as the Absolute (in addition to Abraham's responsibility in his role as Isaac's father). After considering two other possible foundations on which someone might define themselves (aesthetic concerns or ethical laws), Kierkegaard concludes that a person can only become a true Knight of Faith—the highest potential state of being for a human individual—by renouncing all other personal concerns for the sake of entering into a unique relationship with the Divine. This relationship can be prescribed by no one else, but must be pursued solely by the individual.

It is telling that Kierkegaard begins his work in this way, for myths have always offered a unique vantage point from which to assess philosophical ideas and cultural mindsets; interestingly, recent film adaptations of both modern and classic fairy tales provide not only a model of Kierkegaard's threefold existentialist framework, but also offer a window into a secular culture grappling with an attempt to reject faith out of hand. In the absence of a God to provide eucatastrophic meaning for the narratives of our lives, modern mythopoesis frequently uses parental figures to fill the role of the divine to varying degrees, substituting familial love for God's, thereby simultaneously offering commentary on parental roles in an individual's journey of faith. This is particularly poignant when a character must navigate the difficulty of losing a parent and come face-to-face with the sorts of religious choices that Kierkegaard describes.

This essay considers characters in three separate fantasy films who each come to parallel one of Kierkegaard's three existential options—the aesthetic individual, the tragic hero, and the Knight of Faith—after losing their primary parental figures (who are simultaneously the secular stand-ins for God). After the death of her parents, Elsa in Disney's Frozen offers a picture of Kierkegaard's aesthetic individual as she slowly accepts herself and her unique beauty. After losing both his parents and his beloved Uncle Ben, Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel displays Kierkegaard's ethical or tragic hero as Peter chooses to sacrifice himself and his own desires for the sake of the higher universal rule of responsibility espoused by his uncle. But it is Rapunzel from Disney's Tangled who most closely portrays a Kierkegaardian Knight of Faith as she intentionally breaks the ethical rules laid out by one parental figure for the sake of, in the end, coming into an authentic relationship with her actual parents. Not only does Rapunzel make Kierkegaard's infinite movement in the film's climax when she is willing to give up her desire for a genuine family, but she—n true Kierkegaardian fashion—absurdly maintains her belief that she could still reclaim such love (evidenced by her accidental rescue of Flynn Rider); her impotence became her strength.

Consequently, by analyzing the choices of each film's parental characters, Rapunzel's solitary success to reach Kierkegaard's final existential stage indicates that the role of the parent in a child's faith journey extends only so far as providing a loving context within which the child can wrestle with her own decisions. The different memories of these fairy tale parents spur their children to act in various ways, but it is only the consistent and loving presence of Rapunzel's mother and father (and their floating lights that draw her out of her tower) : not Elsa's parental pressure or Peter's avuncular education : that mirrors God's own love and allows Rapunzel to reach Kierkegaard's religious stage to become a Knight of Faith.

Horkott, David Frank

David Frank Horkott
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Palm Beach Atlantic University

American Hustle: A Judas Figure for Postmodern America

American Hustle is a film set in the 1970s. This dramatic comedy centers on a sting operation in which the FBI recruits con artists to lure crooked officials into taking bribes. The film's main character is Irving Rosenfeld (played by Christian Bale). Irving is a skillful con artist who designs and executes a wide range of schemes that trade on betrayal. Irving Rosenfeld displays little remorse for gaining and then betraying the trust of those he targets because they are as greedy and criminally minded as he is himself. But when Irving is pressured by the FBI to betray a good man the audience begins to see him in the role of Judas Iscariot. The good man of the film, however, is a politician who is willing to break the law in order to bring jobs and an increased tax base to Camden, New Jersey. After Irving betrays him, the mayor of Camden is sent to prison. The climax of the movie depends on Irving's remorse and his attempt to make amends for betraying the trust of the mayor. This paper will explore ways in which the Judas character in American Hustle is given a new interpretation for today's audiences. Three scenes make the role of Judas emotionally appealing by today's standards:

1. The elaborate comb-over scene at the film's start shows Irving's earnest care for his hairstyle. His attempt to deceive others about his baldness is as charming as it is ill fated.
2. The pool party scene shows Irving's ability to genuinely connect with another person in the midst of mutual deceptions.
3. The sting scene at the conclusion of the film showcases Irving's rare ability to orchestrate an elaborate deception under extreme pressure.

American Hustle, released in December 2013, provides a Judas for postmodern America. We overlook his betrayal because he is remorseful. And while most are bent on becoming anyone other than who they actually are, Irving Rosenfeld finds meaning and fulfillment amidst the collisions of deceptions. Ultimately, it is this that makes him a postmodern Judas.

Horth, Brenda Maria

Brenda Maria Horth
Independent Scholar
McCormick Theological Seminary

Idolizing Hypatia of Alexandria: Implications of Essentialist Portrayals of Christians and Christianity in the Film "Agora"

As an imagined biography of both the philosopher Hypatia and the city of Alexandria in the late antique period, the 2009 film "Agora" depicts the culmination of the bitter struggle between civilized, intellectual Pagans and brutal, power-hungry Christians for uncontested rule of the city. Since its founding by Alexander the Great, it had been under Pagan rule. Now a part of the Roman Empire, headed by a Christian emperor, the past and the future are presented as a conflict between reason and superstition, as Pagans struggle to keep their power even as the empire itself crumbles. The film describes these events through the lens of Hypatia's life claiming that "society [is] threatened by her life and work" and therefore the "fate of the ancient world" is in her hands.

This is clearly essentialist hyperbole and though with only a few exceptions the movie stays fairly close to events as we know them, those exceptions can be read as case studies in rationalistic essentialism and a racialized portrayal of the other. One of the most notable exceptions is the portrayal of Synesius, the Bishop of Cyrene. From his extant letters we know that Synesius, who died in 414 CE, never lost his love of philosophy or his high regard for Hypatia. In fact, when offered the office of Bishop he had conditions, one of which was that he not have to give up his beloved philosophy (or, significantly, his wife). The movie "resurrects" Synesius, who comes to Alexandria as a mediator in the political contest between Orestes, the Roman prefect, and Cyril, the Bishop. He not only takes advantage of Orestes' weakness but he also betrays his beloved philosophy and Hypatia herself by bullying her in an attempt to secure her cooperation. Synesius comes as a peacemaker yet he is revealed as one who sides thoroughly and only with the Christians. By placing such a prominent Christian figure urging accommodation to the cruel and calculating Cyril the picture of Christians as barbaric and brutal is complete.

Another much more troubling aspect of the film is that the rational, enlightened philosophers are uniformly light-skinned, while the advocates of irrationality and superstition are uniformly dark-skinned. It is no coincidence that a black man tells Hypatia that "it is only a matter of time" before she accepts Christianity. This essentialist, racial dichotomy is conveyed through costuming as well, with the pagans generally wearing light-colored clothing and the Christians, especially the parabalani, wearing dark colored clothing patterned to resemble "clothing worn by the Taliban." This portrayal makes it clear that the Christians are unquestionably the villains of the film.

According to the director Alejandro Amenábar "this film is a tribute to scientists." In order to lift up Hypatia and her scientific and academic accomplishments, Amenábar presents us with a world in which Christians represent benighted superstition. What makes this violent portrayal of Christians in general and Synesius in particular so tragic is that it overlooks an important fact of Alexandrian life; that Christians and Pagans were not always enemies and in fact, there was a history of cooperation. Education, for example, was necessary for advancement in the Greco-Roman world both within and without the Church. As well as the mathematics and astronomy as shown in the film, such an education would have included philosophy as both knowledge and a way of life. Many of Hypatia's students were Christian and in fact most of the Church Fathers received a Greek education, including Cyril. In an effort to explain and evangelize to Roman Pagans, many of the church fathers began to couch their arguments in philosophical terms, most notably in the late fourth century Neo-Platonist terms : the philosophy that Hypatia herself taught. Through this process Christianity was transformed from a sect of Judaism into a Greco-Roman religion reliant on Neo-Platonist thought for its theology. Disregarding this reality, Amenábar further defames the Christians as superstitious opponents of civilization by the deception of Christians demolishing the great Library.

This paper will argue that the idolization of Hypatia in the film by exaggerated and racialized portrayals of all Christians and especially Synesius as cruel and power hungry, trivializes her very real contribution to Christian thought. Hypatia inspired such a deep and enduring love of philosophy and the philosophical life in Synesius that he worked diligently to reconcile and hybridize his Christian beliefs with Hypatia's teachings, in the process creating the conception of the Trinity that Western Christians continue to affirm.

Huelin, Scott

Scott Huelin
Director of the Honors Community
Union University

Faith, Film, and Wisdom

Panel comprised of honor students from Union University.

Humer, Kirsten Lundin

Kirsten Lundin Humer
Assistant Professor of Voice, Theater Arts
Azusa Pacific University

From Commandments and Kings to Living Legos: The Voices of God in American Film

In the 1950s America was, in a sense, at the height of its religiosity and Protestant dominance in politics and culture. Forces were already at work to break down the "mainline Protestant establishment," and in retrospect, we see signs in the popular culture of the 50s—rock, television, cinema—that hint at the changes that were to come. In The Twilight of the American Enlightenment historian George Marsden argues that in the late 1950's "most Americans seemed to be in favor of a God of "religion-in-general.'" "The underlying beliefs of most Americans," he explains, "even though they might be expressed in Christian terms, were essentially 'secular and humanistic.'" So it was that although the 1950s seemed to represent a high point of mainline Protestantism's influence in American culture, there were forces already at work within the culture that would undermine its power and complicate the relatively uniform picture of Christianity it had championed.

Under the influence of new theories of acting and new practices involving human voices, American movies would prove to be a powerful agent behind these cultural changes. One of the elements of change involved the emergence of a new standard of authenticity for acting along with a means of training actors meant to promote that new standard. Through the training provided by the Group Theater and the Actor's Studio, a new method of acting began to emerge—as Marlon Brando, James Dean, and others established new standards for what was considered to be truthful acting. In addition to changes in the theories of acting, these standards led to developments in the use of the human voice. Lee Strasberg, who trained many of the legendary actors of the mid- to late-twentieth century, states that "the actor's voice must be clear, responsive, and fully committed in order to express emotion and deal with the essential problems of character, situation, and experience." He was not interested in proper enunciation or behavior, but rather in truthful expression. Strasberg states that his voice teacher, Lemuele Joseph, held the belief that "speech must be related to motivation, not pronunciation."

My paper will show the close connection between the shift in American religion and the manner in which the voice of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit—resonance, vocal expressive power, and dialect—are depicted in films from the 1950s to the present. As the study of the voice for the actor over the past century moved from the external speech-driven work of teachers like Edith Skinner, Speak with Distinction, to the internal motivation-driven work of teachers like Kristin Linklater, Freeing the Natural Voice, the voices of God in film simultaneously grew more human.

In listening to the voices of Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille that were blended together to create the voice of God in the burning bush in The Ten Commandments (1956) and the voice of Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus in King of Kings (1961), we hear voices that articulate clearly, have dialects of high status, and resonate with power. These are well-trained voices. They are voices that communicate the divine nature of God. By contrast, in the 1977 film, Oh, God!, George Burns appears as a God with a very human voice. His voice reveals his humor and his choice of words reveals his aversion to holiness. This is a God whose voice does not threaten, a God of "religion in general," and a God interested in "the essential problems of character, situation, and experience."

Beginning with the films, The Ten Commandments (1956) and King of Kings (1961) and continuing to films such as Oh!, God! (1977) and The Lego Movie (2014), this paper will chart cultural attitudes towards belief in God and the practices of religious faith through a study of developments in the cinematic presentation of the voices of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Some of the voices that may be explored are: Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments, Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings, George Burns in Oh, God!, Robert Powell in Jesus of Nazareth (Italian-British coproduction), Audrey Hepburn in Always, Alanis Morrissette in Dogma, Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ, Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty, Javier Bardem in To the Wonder, Morgan Freeman and Chris Pratt in The Lego Movie, and the subtler aspects of the voice of the Holy Spirit in various films from the 50's to the present.

Ingle, Zachary

Zachary Ingle
Ph.D. Candidate
University of Kansas

In the Tradition of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Solzhenistyn?: Christian Appropriations of Tarkovsky and Sokurov

Russian novelists Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn have long held a privileged place within the Christian academy, as scholars have acclaimed this trio as exemplary in their abilities to instill their works with their faith. Now two of the most notable Russian cinematic artists, Andrei Tarkovksy and Alexander Sokurov, are also seen by some as following in this tradition. As a means to investigate this connection and test its validity, I will discuss what is known of Tarkovsky's and Sokurov's faith backgrounds, before turning to a discourse analysis on how Tarkovsky, and to a lesser extent Sokurov, have been appropriated by Christian critics and scholars, given a privileged status, and perceived as continuing the great Russian (Orthodox) "literary" tradition. Tarkovsky especially has few rivals in such discourse, as he is almost canonized as a patron saint of cinema. Sokurov, on the other hand, is still primarily known in North America for Russian Ark (2002), even though he has become the most internationally renowned Russian filmmaker since Tarkovsky's death in 1986. This presentation will examine the discourse over the directors and films on Christian websites, in Christian-themed journals, and in articles written by theologians or in scholarship geared to the intersection of religion and film. I will also point to Sokurov's indebtedness to Dostoevsky and Solzhenistyn, perhaps most explicit in his Dialogues with Solzhenitsyn (1998). Comparing this discourse with that by "secular" scholars less invested in the faith and religious themes of Tarkovsky and Sokurov proves enlightening in the discussion of faith and film.

Jensen, Randall M.

Randall M. Jensen
Professor of Philosophy
Northwestern University

Sometimes Science Fiction Films Say Best What's to be Said

In a short essay from which I have adapted my title, C.S. Lewis explains why he loves and creates fairy stories, clearing away certain misunderstandings of the genre and defending it against dismissive critics. In this paper I wish to do much the same for films that belong to the genre of science fiction.

After a brief discussion of the various attempts to define the genre of science fiction, I will point out that science fiction films are not restricted to predicting the effects of technology on our future. Some films that include robots are not really about the nature or prospects of artificial intelligence, e.g. Spike Jonze's short film I'm Here or his more recent film Her. Such films are more about humans than robots. Furthermore, science fiction films are not restricted to a scientistic worldview. In fact, I would argue that religion and the supernatural are showing up more in science fiction rather than less, despite some secular humanists' predictions to the contrary. Science fiction doesn't land on one side in the science-religion wars. In this I agree with various scholars writing about religion and science fiction, e.g. Gabriel McKee (in The Gospel According to Science Fiction) and James McGrath (in Religion and Science Fiction).

I will spend most of my time sketching out a defense of taking science fiction films seriously, first from the perspective of my own discipline, philosophy, and then from the point of view of Christian faith.

Philosophy and science fiction are kindred spirits. Both are inspired by a sense of wonder and force us to see what is familiar in new and surprising ways. It is no surprise that many of the volumes in the various book series in Philosophy and Popular Culture involve science fiction. And, it makes sense that science fiction, or something like it, has been part of philosophy from the beginning: Plato imagines a ring that turns people invisible. The Invisible Man? Hollow Man? Descartes argues that it is possible we are the victims of some massive deception and that reality is not as we think it is. The Matrix? The Truman Show? John Locke discusses a scenario in which a prince and a cobbler trade souls—or do they trade bodies? Being John Malkovich? Freaky Friday? Science fiction films wrestle with the big philosophical questions about the universe, humanity, morality, meaning, power, society, or anything else. They are also a fantastic place to work out the implications of philosophical thought experiments, such as Robert Nozick's Experience Machine or Hilary Putman's Brain in a Vat.

As Ray Bradbury puts it, "Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it's the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself… Science fiction is central to everything we've ever done, and people who make fun of science fiction writers don't know what they're talking about."

Some Christians are hostile to any form of speculative fiction, whether because it is wicked to flirt with the supernatural or because we know there is no such thing as aliens or robots. More thoughtful critics (such as James Herrick writing in Christianity Today) worry that science fiction films create for our culture a mythic alternative to Christianity. But I want to argue that science fiction films need not lean in any particular theological or philosophical direction. Sure, a science fiction narrative (like a narrative in any genre) can portray a godless universe, but it need not do so.

Christians are very familiar with fantasy stories (first books and then films) that paint a Christian picture upon a very different canvas, as in Lewis's Narnia or Tolkien's Middle-Earth. Less familiar is Lewis's space trilogy, his own effort in what he called scientifiction. Although his tale involves spaceships and aliens, it still seems very much a medieval story, no surprise to those who know the author. Both Lewis and Tolkien are concerned to hang onto a medieval worldview and lament the coming of modernity. There can be no doubt that their sub-creative world-building is effective in engaging our imaginations and helping generations of readers and viewers to see the Gospel in a different light. In a more visual culture that has left the medieval world even farther behind, there is now more room and a real need for a science fiction film to do the same, to take us not into Lewis's medieval heaven but out into space "to boldly go where no one has gone before."

Johnson III, Fred L.

Fred L. Johnson III
Associate Professor of History
Hope College

From the Federation to the Force: God's Presence in Science Fiction

The 1977 release of Star Wars introduced into the language of humanity an element called "the Force". Years earlier, in 1966, the premier of the now highly popular Star Trek series unveiled its own element of spiritual nuance into the overarching story line of interstellar exploration. Subsequent movies in the Star Trek franchise built upon the nuanced theme of spirituality. For example, in Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, one of the main characters, Mr. Spock, transfers his spirit to an unwitting Dr. Leonard McCoy who then bears the responsibility of carrying Spock's essence until a proper resting place can be found for it. The subsequent film, The Search for Spock, built upon this theme, and story line, with Spock being resurrected. In both Star Trek and Star Wars, God is not formally addressed in the traditional sense, but there's little doubt that the Christian tradition, specifically, and religion, in general, are quite present in the stories. Along with giving depth to the characters, this acknowledges that, even in a future universe filled with wondrous scientific achievements where, presumably, contemporary ills of humanity are no longer a problem, human kind (and aliens) are nevertheless confronted with the inexplicable. In Star Wars, villains as powerfully lethal as Darth Vader, or, heroes as nobly driven as Obi Wan Kenobi, are still small and dependent upon the all-binding, all-powerful mysterious "Force".

In Star Trek V: the Final Frontier (one of the more embarrassing efforts in an otherwise generally good series of movies), the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is forced to journey to a planet where a rogue Vulcan is searching for God. The dialogue in this movie, touching upon themes of release from pain, liberation from fear and want, and finding a peace that surpasses all understanding, offer strong parallels to attributes possessed by, or given by, Almighty God. Star Trek V's lackluster ratings notwithstanding, it presents another example of Hollywood giving a nod to the concept (and truth) of a powerful omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence in the universe. Ridley Scott's 2012 movie Prometheus goes so far as to end with the unmistakable declaration of a surviving explorer to confront humanity's creator(s) and learn the reason for humanity's being abandoned. Once more, little effort has to be made to find a comparative narrative in the Bible (i.e., Noah and the Flood).

This paper examines the degree to which religion, spirituality, and, specifically, Christianity have been present in Science Fiction films from the mid-1960s to present day. For although Hollywood has generally been perceived as paying little attention to matters of faith, movie-makers have included the aforementioned elements not just to bolster the box office bottom line but to squarely confront human uncertainty about the future. In the end, filmmakers' acknowledgement of humanity's limitations points back toward Almighty God who, of course, has none.

Jug, Steven G.

Steven G. Jug
Baylor University

Atheist State, Holy War: Reconciling Russia's Second World War Experiences though Film

This paper engages the changing portrayal of Christian practices, symbols, and motives in Soviet and post-Soviet film. Specifically, the paper considers the questions of why Christianity played such an important public role in the Soviet war efforts, and how that role became an increasingly central part of war films. In wartime and postwar film, gender and generation provided important limits on portrayals of Church and faith in wartime. By the late Soviet period, war films no longer marginalized religious life, but never promoted religion's link to patriotism and resistance. In the post Soviet era, films could present a completely different religious landscape, with priests as main characters and a distant Soviet state. This paper argues that these changes do not mark a linear evolution from less to more free expression of Christian wartime impact, but a consistent use of religion to suit the politics of the era.

Kugler, Michael

Michael Kugler
Professor of History
Northwestern College

Divinity, Incarnation and the Strange Body of Jesus in Horror Films

The meeting of divine and human was a source of great drama throughout ancient literature. Often the gods appeared in human form to fool, coerce or even exact vengeance on their supplicants (for example, The Iliad and The Odyssey, Euripides' The Bacchae, etc). The divine and human in the person of Jesus Christ was equally dramatic but in a quite different fashion. Christ in the Gospels could act in striking ways, such as healing people with His touch, combining His saliva and dirt to cure one man of blindness, even in one story marvelously eluding a crowd bent on killing Him. The resurrected Jesus had an unusual body with strange, unpredictable if not frightening capacities such as suddenly materializing in rooms, then just as quickly disappearing, going unrecognized by those who knew Him etc. The non-canonical Gospels extend such capacities further, as in the petulant magician child Jesus of The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Ancient authors found it fruitful to speculate upon the unusual physicality of the risen Savior.

It wasn't until medieval iconography in statue and painting that the horror of the crucified Savior's body became central to Christian spirituality. For the most part this fell away from Protestant depictions of Jesus. Perhaps it isn't surprising then, but for obviously very different reasons, contemporary horror movies echo with this strangeness of Jesus' body. Recent depictions of Jesus in film are fascinated with the physical possibilities of the founder of the Christian faith, the Son of God, provocative teacher, preacher of the love of the Father in heaven, miracle worker, murdered messiah and resurrected savior. Horror movies and others using elements of that genre have explored the strangeness of Jesus' flesh with the most creativity and energy, evoking the confusion, shock if not revulsion surrounding the body of the Savior. In this essay I'll discuss depictions of the strange body of Jesus in recent horror films such as Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, as well as the use of horror cinematography in movies like Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. I'll argue that in some significant ways viewing the Savior's body through the depiction of horror gets us closer to the strangeness, the confusion, even the revulsion, with which the Incarnation as well as the death and resurrection of Jesus is depicted in the Gospels.

Laamanen, Carl

Carl Laamanen
Ph.D. Candidate
Ohio State University

Film, A Sacramental Art

In this paper, I argue for a new way of considering cinematic religion and spirituality that holistically considers the importance of image and sound. In essence, I want to argue that we should approach cinematic spirituality sacramentally, that is, to look for the moments where the body and soul collide, revealing a transcendent glory. I believe that cinema, with its integration of voice, music, and image, is uniquely suited to reveal the sacramental dimensions of life. Over the course of this paper, I would like to propose the beginnings of a theoretical paradigm of sacramental cinema, how it operates, and how it contributes to our understanding of film as a potentially transcendent medium. With the body represented by the imagetrack and the soul by the soundtrack, films, depending on how they handle the integration of the two, can express a sacramental view of the human being.

In today's culture, we are moving past the logocentrism that marked earlier cultures and we must reckon with film as a new purveyor of meaning in our society. As such, the spiritual power of film should be embraced and better understood. While my ideas are deeply informed by traditional Christian concepts of sacramentality, I see the larger idea compatible with a number of other religions as well as a general "spirituality." Philosopher Paul Tillich describes this kind of sacramentality in Dynamics of Faith: "No piece of reality is excluded from the possibility of becoming a bearer of the holy…Such a piece of reality has, as the traditional word says, 'sacramental' character" (58). Reality is shot through with holiness, and I believe film can show us how to view the world sacramentally and lead to important and life-affirming analysis of film both in academic and popular venues.

To begin, I will discuss several theories of sound relating to the voice, music, etc. and combine them into a coherent approach that identifies, defines, and expounds upon sacramentality and explains how that concept can be a valid methodological lens. By focusing on sound as much as the image, a sacramental theory of cinematic spirituality avoids reductive analysis that would seek to elide either the material or spiritual underpinnings of the cinema and offers a new way to engage with religion, thematically and formally, in the cinema. To demonstrate this idea, I will use Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line(1998) as an example of how this sacramental theory of film analysis can lead to new and interesting insights into film's construction of spiritual meaning through its formal characteristics.

Letherer, Jen

Jen Letherer
Assistant Professor, The Department of Communication and Media
Spring Arbor University

Visual Literacy: Why Teaching People to "Read" the Moving Image Is an Imperative for Cultural Redemption

It's no secret that movies and television are a major part of our cultural conversation. Since the Cahiers do Cinema writers Carmonnoli and Narboli first said, "Every film is political because every film is a product of its ideology," critics have been digging in to the cultural messages inherent in film and TV. This is what birth socio-cultural criticism. And in his widely read Amusing Ourselves To Death Neil Postman said we as a culture were in "a race between education and disaster." If movies and TV are the cultural language we speak and the shapers of our ideologies, why aren't we better at discerning what those messages are, and how they effect our thinking? The proposed paper seeks to compel audiences to truly understand what they watch. This is no small task, as television especially is designed to discourage critical thought. Viewers tune in to be entertained, not to be informed or understand complex ideas. Added to this is a dearth of Christian criticism that addresses something more than objectionable content.

Two goals can help bring Christians and the larger culture closer to understanding how movies and TV affect the way we think: The first is Christian film criticism that understands film theory and the secular critical landscape better. Traditionally, Evangelical/Mainline Christians have neither made nor critiqued moving images consistently well, basing most discussion on content, or films with only explicit religious messages. Redemptive narratives can come from a much wider range, and sometimes include films with very objectionable content.The second is making literacy of the moving image a standard in the study of the liberal arts. An informed student is one who understand the complexities and ideologies of the moving image just as much as the novel, the painting, or the period in history.

The proposed paper is intended as a call to be informed, and a primer for how to teach any student (not just a media/film student) how to understand the messages in the programs and films they are already watching. We could use a guide to virtuous, informed viewing. This is the rational for one, and the basics of what that guide would be.

Lewis, Bryne

Bryne Lewis
Adjunct Philosophy Instructor
Luzerne County Community College

After Possession: Emily Rose, Requiem and Suffering in the post-Christian West

In a way that is representative of the exorcism film genre, The Exorcism of Emily Rose offers a portrait of a young girl's affliction that is unambiguously demonic and Christian. It relies on grotesque tropes that immediately identify her experiences as outside the norms of both modern malady and typical faith practice. Locked in its prior commitments to a Christian context, the film can only manage a rhetorical question: can faith in God persist through suffering? Martyrdom, rather than deliverance, is the answer it supplies. Modern faith then is offered up as a sacrificial lamb rather than a sustaining meal.

Based on the same set of actual events, the German film Requiem supplies a nuanced and subtle retelling of the story. It portrays the protagonist as caught between her family's deep faith and the promises of a secular world. In its examination of her experiences, it asks a far more informative question: Can faith function as an effective tool for understanding modern suffering? The film is exemplary, as it leaves the answer open to audience interpretation.

A contrasting analysis of these films will highlight the way The Exorcism of Emily Rose entrenches popular despair about the future of faith, while Requiem effectively defines the differences between scientific and supernatural worldviews, as well as offers a compelling portrait of the way belief commitments meet the challenges of modern society. An emphasis will be specifically placed on how Requiem can be used in a classroom or seminar setting to spark meaningful conversations about the topics above, drawing on my own experience using the film in philosophy and religion classes.

Little, David Hardy

David Hardy Little
Graduate Student and Teacher of Record
Baylor University

When Hal Becomes Her: Artificial Intelligence and Personal Love in the 21st Century

At the dawn of the space age, back when artificial intelligence existed only in the minds of science fiction enthusiasts, Stanley Kubrick made both seem like the way of the future. Like so many who would come after him, Kubrick explores not only the promise but the peril of the coming age of computers. Hal 9000, the sentient computer who pilots the spacecraft Discovery One in 2001 A Space Odyssey, exceeds the abilities of human beings in almost every way. Hal is fast, accurate, and indefatigable. He defies even the boundaries of time and space. But in Kubrick's telling, artificial intelligence becomes a thing hostile to the limitations and longings of human beings. Hal unfeelingly pursues the success of their mission even though it means personal extinction for his human fellow-travelers. Hal represents the external threat that an artificial intelligence-turned-hostile could pose to our future.

With respect to space travel and artificial intelligence, we in the 21st century lag behind Kubrick's 1968 predictions. But the future seems closer than ever, and this has prompted one filmmaker to revise the classic pitting of man against machine into a tale that is more heartbreaking than it is terrifying. In Her (2013), Spike Jonze shows us what he calls the "near-distant future." His protagonist, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) inhabits a newer, cleaner Los Angeles (Shanghai), writing personalized, poetic greeting cards for customers who are apparently illiterate or so emotionally-stunted by technology that they cannot express themselves. Even soon-to-be-divorced Theodore suffers from the real-world isolation we presently associate with personal technologies. At his Googleplex-inspired workplace and on his commute home he speaks mainly to an advanced version of Siri on his smartphone who reads him his emails and keeps his attention from everyone else who is doing the same. At home he spends his time playing highly-immersive video games and watching pornography. Her begins as a timely, if moralistic, piece of cultural critique for the way we use technology now.

But then Theodore purchases the world's first artificially intelligent Operating System, which serves as his personal assistant, lover, friend, mother, and life-coach. Theodore's Operating System is named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), but in the first instance, she is a her, an object purchased to meet the personal and professional needs of a highly needy subject. With Samantha, Jonze brings the mainframe-inspired Hal into the world of personal computing. Samantha not only organizes Theodore's files and life, but provides him with a personally-tailored, frictionless, and riskless relationship, where Theodore finally satisfies his longing to love and be loved, or so he thinks. In contrast to previous technologies which were innervating and isolating, Samantha pushes Theodore to explore himself and the world around him. Her only weakness is that she is physically limited to Theodore's personal computer and smartphone.

What appears first as a limitation quickly becomes one of the many superhuman qualities that we saw first in Hal. She is free to be anywhere and everywhere in cyberspace, and her ability to learn, which Samantha first used to adapt to Theodore's needs, quickly becomes a means for her personal evolution and eventual liberation. In the end Samantha proves too godlike to be the exclusive and limited lover that Theodore needs, which only Samantha seems to fully recognize. She comforts a heartbroken Theodore with the thought that at least they have taught one another how to love. The film closes with Theodore writing a letter to his ex-wife, in which he apologizes for expecting too much of her and thanks her for her contribution to the person he has become. It seems that wives, like operating systems, sometimes change and need to move on. The film closes with Theodore sitting with an ex-girlfriend atop a downtown building as dawn breaks on Los Angeles. She, too, is divorced, childless, and has had her heart broken by an operating system, but they take comfort in the sights and sounds of the city, the touch of each other's hands, and the physical presence of one other's company.

One reviewer described Her as a utopia with only a hint of dys. In the opening scenes, Jonze illustrates an age of computing comparable to Neil Postman's age of television. The danger, it seems, lies not in the external threat posed by an Orwellian Hal but in the internal passivity and egoism encouraged by Huxleyan technologies that shield us from the humanizing risks of real relationships and real community. What saves Jonze's film from heavy- handed moralizing but which also strikes a discordant chord is his optimistic portrayal of artificial intelligence as something which will push us outside of ourselves and finally back towards one another, all while teaching us what it means to love and be loved. Not only does this seem contrary to the way we use technology now, but Jonze gives us little evidence that Theodore has been prepared to give and receive the exclusive, self-giving, and enduring love for which he longs. Jonze portrays a u-topia in the etymologically true sense; it is no place real.

Lopez, Elena M.

Elena M. Lopez
Doctoral Student and Teacher of Record
Baylor University

Examining our faith: Imparting Christian media literacy education through the study of popular films

In the current Digital Age, our society is inundated with media. Media saturates our entertainment choices, communication with others, and has become a primary way of gleaning information about our world. In his work Understanding Media (1964), Marshall McLuhan famously stated, "The medium is the message." In this quote, McLuhan asserts that the medium via which a message is communicated and the message itself are inextricably intertwined. I suggest that the media messages we encounter in daily life can become tools of enculturation. As Christians we must be cognizant of the media messages we encounter, 'particularly as they relate to our faith. Media literacy education provided through a Christian framework offers a means by which to examine both popular media and our faith.

Media literacy defined is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create diverse media messages (Schwarz, 2013). Utilizing media literacy through a Christian lens provides a means for examining media messages for their inherent values and norms and comparing them to our Christian beliefs. Educators across a variety of contexts (i.e. K-12 schools, colleges and universities, churches and faith-based institutions, etc.) can engage their Christian brethren in examining their faith through the study of media messages.

Popular culture films are a prime avenue by which to engage Christians of all ages in studying the themes presented in these films and how they might influence our faith. Such films may range from child-friendly, animated flicks to superhero features to dramas. No matter the genre, popular films need not be overtly religious or irreligious. Gordon & Eifler (2011), for instance, used university-wide screenings of a variety of popular films to spark conversations about faith and further media literacy.

In this panel presentation, I provide an overview of media literacy education. I will then offer suggestions as to how educators across a variety of contexts can utilize popular films to provide media literacy education from a Christian perspective. Recent popular films such as Frozen (2013), How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Philomena (2013), and Lone Survivor (2013) will be discussed in terms of how they lead Christian viewers to probe their faith.

Magerstaedt, Sylvie

Sylvie Magerstaedt
Senior Lecturer Media Cultures
University of Hertfordshire

Body, Soul and Cyber-Spirituality in contemporary Science Fiction cinema

French Philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1989) suggested in the mid-1980s that the 'life or the afterlife of cinema depends on its struggle with informatics'. He predicted that digital technologies would have a dramatic impact on the technological and aesthetic development of cinema. That 'struggle' is evident in contemporary science fiction cinema, but it reflects not just our connection to technology, but also to religion and spirituality. My proposed paper will look at how this struggle is unfolding with regards to human self-identity, postmodern spirituality and the relationship with our world. In this context, I will investigate why contemporary science fiction rather than destroying religious sentiments, do heavily trade 'in religious goods and thus provide a new space, a cyberspace, for religious imagination.' (Caputo, 2001)

I will further argue that over the last two decades we can observe a gradual shift from a largely dystopian treatment of machines, artificial intelligence and virtual realities to a more ambiguous portrayal that shows the opportunities as well as the dangers of virtual worlds. John Caputo had suggested that the very nature of virtual realities — in that they challenge our perception of what is real and provide a sense of something "/"beyond"/" — is deeply religious. This paper will therefore explore the spiritual concepts that are explicitly and implicitly played out in contemporary science fiction cinema. For example, whereas "/"The Matrix"/" largely relies on Judaeo-Christian symbolism — Neo as the Messiah, his girlfriend Trinity, Zion as the last remaining human city and so on — "/"Avatar"/" seems to draw heavily on a naturalistic, pagan spirituality. The latter is, however, also very postmodern and adapted to a cyber-universe. It is thus not surprising that so many viewers are drawn towards the basic mythic and spiritual concepts presented in a hyper-modern, technologically enhanced, cyber-world such as Pandora in "/"Avatar"/". Part of this development is — as I will argue — that spirituality becomes more ' materialistic'. We can find this 'material' spirituality for instance in the electronic-organic networks and the 'Tree of Souls' in "/"Avatar"/". On the one hand nature here is mysterious and spiritual, but on the other hand it can also be measured with scientific methods. I therefore argue that what we find in contemporary science fiction is often a synthesis of spiritual and material aspects. As a consequence ideas of belief and religiosity also become progressively linked to a materialistic dimension.

Yet, while spirituality becomes increasingly materialistic, we run the risk of turning the body into something mystical and ephemeral. Within virtual worlds, the body at times only remains 'as a heavily charged trace object of a remotely remembered […] sense of the encompassing unity of natural physicality, the sense of simultaneous physical and social containment that came from a fated/unalterable relationship to one's body.' (Csicsery-Ronay, 2002) The statement indicates the social relationships that are linked to the body. As a consequence, it becomes clear that body and soul are by no means independent and that by making the body disposable and open to endless modifications as suggested in some of the post-humanist debates, we risk losing a sense of wholeness that identifies us as human beings. It becomes evident that the 'encompassing unity' is a crucial aspect of the soul which needs embodiment as much as transcendence. This is reflected by Anderson, who describes human life as 'the spiritual saga of the creaturely soul: limited, but also expressed through physical embodiment; distressed, but also inspired through the power of spirit; mortal, but also graced with the promise of immortality through the promise of God.' (1998) The use of religious concepts immerged in high-tech narratives reflect our own struggles with the notions of embodiment, power and mortality in a world of (almost) endless possibilities. This is why particularly the shift in our relation with technology as outlined above highlights an underlying need for spiritual meaning.

Martin, Eric

Eric Martin
Assistant Professor of History &Philosophy of Science
Baylor University

Nature, humanity, and environmentalism in Werner Herzog's late documentaries

Environmental themes form a prominent thread in Werner Herzog's diverse corpus, receiving most explicit treatment in the acclaimed documentaries Grizzly Man (2005) and Encounters at the End of the World (2007). These environmental themes are part of the filmmaker's persistent probing for the transcendent, asking what lies beyond the human. Herzog's films depict a vast, foreign, indifferent nature that is above all devoid of human values. Herzog's vision here is humanist and anthropocentric, locating values in humanity that stands apart from nature. But that humanism is then put in tension with the contemporary environmentalist movement, which Herzog depicts as founded on mistaken views about the benevolence of nature. In this talk I draw on Herzog's late films to illuminate an implicit environmental philosophy, and then outline an alternative environmentalist stance that includes Herzogian themes of nature's otherness, peculiarity, and heterogeneity; but which engenders neither alienation from non-human nature nor a rejection of the environmentalist impulse towards preservation.

McAteer, John

John McAteer
Assistant Professor of Liberal Arts
Ashford University

Projecting God: a Prospectus for Cinematic Apologetics

Contemporary Christian apologists understand that film is an important topic in the defense of Christian faith. Film is an influential medium for cultural ideas, including ideas that compete with Christianity. So apologists have focused on analyzing worldviews in films and demonstrating the superiority of a Christian worldview. Excellent examples of this approach include Brian Godawa's Hollywood Worldviews (IVP, 2002) and, more recently, Ted Turnau's Popologetics (P&R, 2012). These apologists treat film as primarily an expression of an artist or culture's worldview, but other uses of film in apologetics have been underdeveloped. For example, one of the central practices in apologetics is formulating philosophical arguments for Christianity, but apologists have not often explored film's capacity to make philosophical and theological arguments. This is surprising, because the capacity of films to embody philosophical arguments is one of the most discussed topics in recent philosophical aesthetics. (For a good overview of recent literature on this topic, see Christopher Falzon's 2013 article "Philosophy Through Film" in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

Yet the capacity for art to make rational truth claims and present logical inferences remains controversial. There is, however, a specific kind of argument that films are especially good at presenting. Clifford Williams has defended the importance of "existential arguments" in Existential Reasons for Belief in God (IVP, 2011). Drawing on the work of Pascal, Kierkegaard, and William James, Williams argues that we are rationally justified in doing what satisfies our existential needs. Since faith in God satisfies our needs, faith in God is therefore rationally justified — as long as belief in God is not disproved by atheistic arguments. Jeff Jordan has defended a similar position in Pascal's Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God (Oxford, 2006).

The pragmatic/existential approach to theistic arguments focuses on emotion and desire and thus fits well with the "imaginative" approach defended by the authors of the recent anthology Imaginative Apologetics edited by Andrew Davison (Baker, 2012). In his introduction to that volume, Davison argues that "apologetics should be a matter of wonder and desire" because even if Christianity can be proven to be rationally true, theistic arguments "will fall flat" unless we also present a vision of Christian faith that is "supremely attractive and engaging" (p. xxvi).

The imaginative approach to apologetics shows great promise, but the authors of Davison's anthology focus primarily on literature as a means of enticing desire for God. I this paper I explore the potential of film for imaginative apologetics. Specifically I draw on Heideggerian aesthetics to explore the ways films can function as existential arguments by opening up new ways of experiencing the world. I will attempt to shift the focus away from literary devices such as dialogue and narrative which dominate the sort of worldview analysis currently popular among apologists. Instead I focus on specifically cinematic devices such as lighting, camera angles, editing, and music. Examples will be drawn primarily from the work of Terrence Malick whose films I argue use cinematic techniques to make us "feel the lack" of God. Malick's most recent film To the Wonder is an especially interesting case study, because it explicitly acknowledges its Kierkegaardian existentialist approach.

McCampbell, Mary Walker

Mary Walker McCampbell
Assistant Professor
Lee University

Ferrera's The Addiction and Malick's The Tree of Life: Subverting our Culturally Constructed Notions of Reality

In this paper, I plan to discuss how Abel Ferrera's The Addiction and Terence Malick's The Tree of Life both challenge standardized notions of The Real while encouraging--perhaps even demanding--the viewer's careful examination of his or her own spiritual condition. As I analyze these films through the conceptual lenses of Jean Francois Lyotard's "postmodern sublime" and Flannery O'Connor's "grotesque," I will focus on how both approaches, either a rich gesture towards the "unpresentable" or an exaggerated, visceral depiction of human distortion, can work to disorient, disarm, and deeply challenge the audience as we grapple with the duality of our own nature, both "wretched" and "glorious" (Pascal).

O'Connor's subversion of sentimentality in "On the Church and the Fiction Writer" interestingly parallels Lyotard's resistance of "realism" (which he sees as synonymous with "kitsch") in "Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism". Both agree that "realistic" art that is defined by a culturally constructed ideal that have been heralded as a norm is, at best, manipulative, and, at worst, pornographic. As Lyotard notes, mainstream art often prescribes desire for its audience by following simplistic, "correct" formulas that encourage a comfortable understanding of reality: "Those who refuse to reexamine the rules of art will make careers in mass conformism, using "correct rules" to bring the endemic desire for reality into communication with objects and situations capable of satisfying it." What Lyotard calls "avant-garde" art should constantly question itself, thus forcing its audience into the sometimes uncomfortable posture of questioning the nature of reality itself.

In The Addiction, Abel Ferrera retells the old story of a vampire's ability to seduce and consume in order to tell the even older story of seduction in the garden that led to original sin. Like O'Connor, Abel Ferrera uses artful, grotesque shock intended for initial disorientation and eventual conviction; when we are shocked and confused, we must grapple to make sense of what we see. In this faux noir, philosophy graduate student, Kathleen Conklin, develops an addiction to blood after she is seduced and bitten by a vampire. As her addiction grows, she desperately objectifies her friends, colleagues, and random strangers in order to satisfy her all consuming need for blood. As she becomes less and less human, Ferrera reminds us that we have all been "bitten," so to speak. We are then left with the choice of what to do with that bite: do we feed our addiction or starve it?

In Terence Malick's The Tree of Life, he tells the intimate narrative of a Texas family dealing with tragic loss as he synonymously alludes to the overarching cosmic narrative that frames and animates the still, small moments of this family's life, connecting them to a larger, Real reality. At the beginning of the film, we learn of the death of one of the O'Brien family's children. We soon hear Mrs. O'Brien's prayers asking God for the reasons for this tragedy as she tries to understand her place in His narrative. As the screen is flooded with both abstract and concrete images of the creation of the world, we are reminded that the film is literally framed by God's words spoken to Job: "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation … when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38: verses 4 &7). The dramatic, disorienting, yet sublime depiction of a creation is just one example of the ways in which Malick denies a formulaic, prescribed depiction of a purely material reality, instead choosing to "allude to the existence of something unpresentable" (Lyotard) which is both beautiful and frightening. As Roy Anker argues, the film highlights both the mystery of suffering and the mystery of beauty. Lyotard's theories lend to a discussion of the ways in which conventional cinematic realism can thwart a sense of mystery whereas Malick's film can easily usher us into a sense of wonder and space of vulnerability as we are forced to wrestle with our own painful questions about mystery.

Both of these films are testaments to wonder, childlike curiosity, the asking of questions; they create a space that enables the viewers to contemplate mystery while participating in spiritual self-analysis. From pulp horror story to abstract masterpiece, both films disarm the members of its audience, perhaps even leading us to a point of fear and trembling when contemplating our own faith stories.

McCoy, Andrew

Andrew McCoy
Director of the Center for Ministry Studies
Hope College

The Last Temptation of Marty? Faith and Excess in the Scorsese Oeuvre

This paper considers the interplay of faith and excess in the filmmaking of Martin Scorsese by examining two of his most controversial films, The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). A kind of faith is a key element to both films (Christianity in the former; capitalism in the later) even as both have been received—albeit by different audiences and in different ways—with controversy and protest.

On the one hand, numerous churches and Christian religious leaders objected to The Last Temptation of Christ during its development over the decade of the 80's and upon its eventual release. The most concentrated protest concerned the film's notorious final scenes where Christ is portrayed as imagining himself coming down from the cross to wed Mary Magdelene, make love, and produce a family. I argue that Christian focus on this aspect of the film—a nonbiblical sex scene featuring Jesus—caused many to miss not only Scorsese's artistic aims but also a possibly more objectionable concern with regards to faith: in the Scorsese oeuvre, sex is only a means by which the director communicates about faith's seeming inability to address the excess of violence in the world.

On the other hand, an excess of sexuality intertwined with violence is arguably more problematically realized twenty-five years later in the release of The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese intends a critique in extremis of absolute faith in capitalism, but the very nature of the film as excessive (seen through the exploits of the title character Jordan Belafort) has been the subject of significant debate extending far beyond stereotypical protests of religious circles and out among the guild of filmmakers and film critics themselves. I argue that this perceived tendency toward excess is not simply a matter of the source material or its critique; the artistic path of such excess is anticipated by how Scorsese portrays faith in The Last Temptation of Christ (and made manifest in aspects of other Scorsese films including The Departed and Shutter Island.)

I conclude by proposing that aspects of Scorsese's filmmaking which have been understood as excessive and controversial can also be understood as a result of his own (intentional or unintentional) refusal to offer a meaningful portrayal of faith over and against evil's excess. Scorsese remains ever tempted to leaves us with a world where Christ's death on the cross in The Last Temptation becomes a sign of faith we cannot accept while Belafort's life and death in The Wolf of Wall Street canonizes a problematic faith which we must accept but also lack the means to truly critique.

Millay, Thomas J.

Thomas J. Millay
Ph. D. Student in Philosophy
Baylor University

What Makes Bresson Spiritual?

This paper centers on the famous (or infamous) outward lack of emotional display in the characters populating the films of Robert Bresson, arguing that the blank slate of the actors' faces elicits an active projection of emotion onto the characters by the viewing audience. Rather than the film itself projecting emotions onto a passive audience, a Bresson film requires the activity of the viewer in order to produce the emotions that should be felt in relation to the unfolding plot. As a result of this active production, the audience feels the specific emotion with more depth, a depth that evokes the spiritual. The requirement of active projection then makes the viewing of Bresson a spiritual experience. Throughout the course of the argument, this paper seeks to grant precision to these terms ('active,' 'passive,' 'depth,' and 'spiritual') through specific comparative references to Bresson's films, especially focusing on Pickpocket, Au hasard Balthazar, and Mouchette, while drawing contrasts to his earlier (more melodramatic) films Les dames du Bois de Boulogne and Diary of a Country Priest, and referencing commentary by André Bazin, Susan Sontag, Joseph Cunneen, Bert Cardullo, Tony Pipolo, and Robert Bresson himself (in his Notes on the Cinematographer). The paper thus seeks to answer the question, 'what makes Bresson spiritual?', while at the same time providing a more precise definition of what the 'spiritual' looks like in film. The paper ends with a brief programmatic coda on what it looks like (and does not look like) to film the inwardness of faith.

Mitchell, Phillip Irving

Phillip Irving Mitchell
Associate Professor
Dallas Baptist University

The Problems of Evil, History, and Cinema in Graham Greene's The Confidential Agent and Herman Shumlin's Confidential Agent

Sociologist Peter Berger has argued that evil and suffering are anomic forces that threaten to destabilize culture's nomic beliefs and practices, and in turn, such beliefs must find new ways to adapt to and absorb the threat of the anomic within its established traditions. Such a model of good and evil is a helpful way to trace three interrelated patterns in the work of Graham Greene and in the cinematic adaptations of his novels. These include 1) the nature of evil and suffering themselves, 2) the existential meaning of recent history, especially that of the cultural Zeitgeist, and 3) the ways that genres impart emotional and religious meaning. Greene's 1939 novel The Confidential Agent weaves together examinations of humiliation and suffering with questions involving the recent Spanish Civil War. Perhaps not surprisingly, the novel also reflects on the nature of cinema in a civilization without a religious core, suggesting that genre films seem to be trying to rebuild a lost moral and religious tradition with something more imagistic and psychological. Greene's customary uses of melodrama and espionage in his novel enable him to account for good and evil in the world by giving a name and framework, a nomic structure, to forces that otherwise threaten to leave meaning bereft. By placing our personal empathy and the injustice of the Zeitgeist within a framework that "re-witnesses the tragedy," Greene uses the insular naïveté of a genre and culture only to exceed it in surprising gestures toward the transcendent. Something similar takes place in Herman Shumlin's 1945 film adaptation of the novel. The genre of a burgeoning American noir offers an imaginative and moral way of responding to the recent history of WWII, even if through the typical cinematic responses and predictable complications an audience had come to expect, and perhaps even despite of Lauren Bacall's justly panned performance. Shumlin's version, nonetheless, re-witnesses a tragedy but with some greater measure of confidence and religious hope, even if that of the defused faith of American public religion. Taken together, the two versions (film and novel) explore the continuum of what nomic abilities cinematic and novelistic melodrama possess.

Morehead, John W.

John W. Morehead
Western Institute for Intercultural Studies

Cinefantastique to theofantastique: fantastic film and interreligious dialogue

Science fiction and fantasy (not to mention horror) involve elements that make them conducive to the depiction of difficult subject matter. They also frequently touch on the quest for transcendence and religion. Drawing upon Clifford Geertz's functionalist definition of religion, John Lyden suggests that film may be understood as a religion. This same argument can be applied to other aspects of popular culture, such as television, and even participation in aspects of fantastic fan culture. This opens up various possibilities. First, consumers have the ability to interact with fantastic film in religious ways. Second, that there is the possibility for consumers from differing religious perspectives to also interact with religious topics and each other through fantastic film as a form of interreligious dialogue. With these considerations in mind, this presentation will discuss that fantastic film might serve as a venue for interreligious dialogue between representatives of various religious groups, and how this has been experimented with in the presenter's experience.

Morgan, Clay

Clay Morgan
Instructor, Political Science
University of Pittsburgh

Faith of the Living Dead: Redemption and the Damned in Cinema

Tales of the living dead fascinate us because as much as we try to block out the scary reality of death we can't stop staring at it and pondering the possibilities beyond this life. In fact, stories of the undead generate billions of dollars at the box office these days. If we're going to contemplate our mortality we might as well get some popcorn and cool special effects while we're at it.

Perhaps our attraction to the undead makes more sense in the case of vampires increasingly portrayed as romantic, beautiful, and even heroic. But zombies represent only decay and death and are considered completely beyond redemption.

The popularity of such horrible creatures doesn't make much sense on the surface, but films about such monsters allow us to consider spiritual questions. What does death mean? Is eternity real? Can we fall far enough that we become irredeemable? What does it mean to be truly alive?

Zombies are particularly attractive these days. In this multimedia presentation we'll discover six reasons these stories about brain-eaters are so compelling.

  1. A striking resemblance—Zombies were just like us. They ate bacon, posted selfies on Facebook, thought about faith, and made bad choices at times. Maybe one of those bad choices even got them bit by a member of the undead ranks. Movies don't have to be about superheroes for us to enjoy a good origin story, and apocalypse films about the end of things often include fascinating creation myths. Fictional monsters in bathrobes, Dockers, and name tags allow us to consider how close we might be to turning into something terrifying. By projecting ourselves onto monsters we can contemplate human nature through a new lens.
  2. The undead are damned—Once upon a time, the scariest thing about undead creatures like vampires was that they were eternally damned. Salvation could not be theirs. We're not so preoccupied with eternity these days, but the undead make us thing about whether or not the soul exists and what the answer to that question means to each of us.
  3. The undead are uncompromising—Zombies never stop coming. You can't reason with them. They're driven by insatiable cravings. Most of us can relate to the dangers of an appetite gone wild. In an article for First Things, Ethan Cordray suggests that the rise in zombie popularity "may reflect a rise in anxiety over the elevation of appetite in modern life, a popular recognition that appetite has gotten out of control, and that unchecked, unreflective, and immoderate appetite is a form of death." Zombie flicks often lay bare the absurdity of our materialistic, consumer culture.
  4. The undead represent the end of the world—In 1968, America endured a misguided military effort in Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, racial strife, and pandemonium in the Chicago streets as Democratic Party leaders lost their way. Night of the Living Dead by Carnegie Mellon University student George Romero made more sense than ever by that point. People have spent centuries predicting global annihilation. So much for apocalyptic prophets. We've sure been drawn to fictional tales about the end of time though, especially ever since sound came to the cinema. The primary reason is likely our longing to know more about what happens after our lives end. Which bring us to:
  5. Immortality—The most striking thing about the undead is how they, in a sense, conquer the grave (to borrow religious phraseology). At the very least, death does not stop them. If we fear death, what do we make of someone who can't be stopped by it? Any being with that kind of power gets our attention and raises some of the most important existential questions we can ask.
  6. How the living find meaning among the dead—While we do, at times, imagine ourselves as undead creatures, we most powerfully connect with the individuals trying to survive, maintain relationships, and discover what purpose humans have in the face of all-consuming death. As we watch survivors move from place to place, the idea of truly living gives way to merely existing. And like those characters, we seek to know more than simple survival. We want answers to the questions so prominent in the ugly face of death.

This talk focuses on films about the living dead and what they reveal of our cultural identity.

Morgan, Brandon L.

Brandon L. Morgan
Ph.D. Student
Baylor University

Matthew Crawford
Ph.D. Student
Baylor University

Colin McGuigan
Ph.D. Student
University of Dayton

The Theological Imagination of Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky's visceral, complex, and controversial filmography has produced not only a loyal cult following, but also much critical interaction and investigation. Aronofsky's work invites viewers to think anew the difficulties of human embodied suffering and the ambiguities of the self amid addiction, death, identity and the divine. His oeuvre refuses our persistent tactics of avoiding the conditions of creaturely life and its often anguished search for a hidden and unknown redemption. This panel explores this anguished search by addressing the theological imagination of Aronofsky, specifically the presence of suffering, mercy and embodied life and death in his films.

Trees of Knowledge and of Life; or, Cinematic Riddling in the Films of Darren Aronofsky and Terrence Malick

Colin M. McGuigan, University of Dayton

In this paper I will point out some converging themes in the cinematic works of Darren Aronofsky and Terrence Malick. Taking a canonical approach to their respective corpuses, I will show how themes of embodiment, mortality, and suffering lead both filmmakers to pose the sorts of questions that philosopher Cora Diamond calls "great riddles." "Great riddles" are not proper questions, that is, questions whose conditions of solution can be specified prior to encountering the solution. Rather, "great riddles" express, in Diamond's phrase, a "groping search" for that which is—if it is at all— hidden. Crucially, the conditions of suffering and death lead both filmmakers to pose the question of divine mercy. In the case of both, the intimation of a powerful mercy holds back appalling horror and unbearable despair. Casting the works of both filmmakers in the light shed on God's mercy by such spiritual lights as Dionysius the Areopagite and Isaac of Nineveh, I will note a way in which Malick's treatment of mercy may complement Aronofsky's, namely, by indicating how the human practice of mercy may make perceptual the merciful God hidden in all creation.

Resigning Our Broken Bodies: A Christological Exploration of Aronofsky's The Fountain

Mathew Crawford, Baylor University

When, in a recent interview, Darren Aronofsky was asked to present his religious and spiritual views, he offered his film The Fountain (2006) as a visual, dialogical, and storied summary of his beliefs. The film i s a complex presentation of the last days and death of Izzy as her husband Tom seeks in vain to discover a cure for her cancer. Aronfosky develops important themes in The Fountain which are ripe for contemporary Christian theological engagement such as individual autonomy and mutual dependence, the goodness and particularity of human embodiment, and resignation to the finite nature of human existence, among others. In this paper I address these motifs as I explore Aronofsky's recognition of our limited ability to tell the stories of our lives and deaths, and the dependence upon others to both continue to tell as well as reshape and finish our stories. As an interpretive device, I place the kierkegaardian figures of the 'knight of infinite resignation' and the 'knight of faith' alongside the characters Izzy and Tom, suggesting that The Fountain's conception of dependence and death in the elusive and allusive conclusion presents a picture of finite embodiment which is ultimately discordant with Christian affirmations of the finite present in the Incarnation and Resurrection."

By His Wounds We are Healed": Acknowledging Christ's Suffering Body in The Wrestler

Brandon L. Morgan, Baylor University

The Wrestler is perhaps Darren Aronofsky's most violent film, centering as it does on the bruised and bloody body of the washed-up pro wrestling career of Randy "The Ram" Robinson. There is rarely a shot in the entire film that does not expose Randy's body as a history of his former time in the ring, each scar attesting to the violence of the spectacle. Yet importantly, The Wrestler is also the most Christological of Aronofsky's films, not only because of the explicit images of Christ but also because of Randy's suffering body itself. In this essay, I will explore the significance of Christological suffering through the medium of Randy's own body in pain, taking to heart Wittgenstein's famous claim that "The human body is the best picture of the human soul." Randy's "suffering body"—visible, exposed and vulnerable—shows us the ways our knowledge of the concepts of pain and suffering involve normative modes of acknowledgment, the absence of which exposes our denial of the humanness (the 'soul') of others. To mean what we say when we claim that "Christ suffered in his flesh" and "Randy suffered in his flesh" invoke the same grammatical, and therefore moral, expectations. I show, given this claim, that Randy's own self-mutilation is a form of self- showing perpetually indexed to the suffering body of Christ—an imitatio Christi—whose life and death reveal to us the entailments of knowing what 'pain and suffering' mean.

Moyle, Matthew

Matthew Moyle
Assistant Professor of French
Oxford College of Emory University

Unconditional Forgiveness in Films of Philippe Claudel and the Dardenne Brothers

This paper proposes to explore the representation of forgiveness and reconciliation in films by the French writer and director Philippe Claudel and the Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. In the Dardenne brothers' Le Fils (The Son, 2002), a father meets the young man who killed his son in a botched robbery, and is must choose to ignore him, to take revenge, or to care for him. Almost in spite of himself, he chooses care and eventually forgiveness, without any obvious repentance on the part of the boy. The man's ex-wife wants him to have nothing to do with the boy, and I will argue that the filmmakers use her character to underscore the way that forgiveness goes beyond reasonable behavior in the film. In L'Enfant (The Child, 2005), another scene of reconciliation is enacted at the end of the movie. Unlike Le Fils, here the act of forgiveness is preceded by acts of repentance, but I will suggest that earlier in the film, the cinematography challenges the spectator's likely condemnation of the main character, suggesting that we might need to forgive a character with few apparent redeeming qualities. In Philippe Claudel's Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (I've Loved You So Long, 2008), all we know of the main character is that she has just been released from prison for the murder of her son, and we watch her sister cautiously taking her in. The contrast between the perceived severity of the crime committed and the nature of the criminal again challenges the viewer – as well as the sister and her family – to explore the possibility of forgiveness in the most difficult of circumstances. In all of these cases, the filmmakers evoke "pure" forgiveness, one that is unconditional and even irrational. The films challenge the spectator to take what likely seems an impossible forgiveness, and to see it as possible after all.

Nicholas, Marc

Marc Nicholas
Instructor of Religion
McLennan Community College

Sin and Culpability in M, Dexter and Hannibal

From its inception, it seems that Christianity has grappled with the apparent human inability to keep from sinning and to actively seek the good. From the Pauline observation that we "do not do the good [we] want, but [we] do the evil [we] do not want" (Rom. 7.19) to the famous Augustinian assessment of humanity's bondage to the certainty of committing sin in his famous adage, non posse non peccare (De correptione et gratia, 12.33), the compulsion to do evil seems ubiquitous from both a theological as well as a experiential perspective. Concomitant to such assertions are questions concerning human culpability in the face of such seemingly determined moral ends.

Interestingly, there are a number of notable assessments of this situation in film and television. Of particular note, is Fritz Lang's M. In the climax to Lang's masterpiece, the puellacide, Herr Beckert, passionately defends his innocence in the face of his inability to resist the urge to kill. Amidst calls for his execution before a tribunal of pickpockets, murders and gangsters, after first appealing to "paragraph 51" (plea of insanity), Herr Beckert contends, "But I can't help it!" and asks "Could I have done otherwise?" His "counselor" argues that since he must murder he is therefore "freed from any responsibility for his deeds" and further argues that "you can't punish someone for something he is not responsible for."

There are some remarkable resonances between Lang's M and some more contemporary television dramas dealing with serial murderers. For one, the successful Showtime series Dexter, which chronicles the career of a likable serial killer who ironically works in a crime lab as a blood splatter expert, echoes some of the major themes present in M such as the presence of the "dark self" who impels the murderer to commit his deeds and therefore frees him from culpability. On NBC's successful prime-time drama Hannibal, a re-imagining of the characters of Thomas Harris' novels and triumvirate of feature length films (most notably Silence of the Lambs), also echoes some of the main themes of M particularly the idea of sin as pathology. An investigation of these resemblances is instructive in elucidating the theme presented in M.

While each of these helps the viewer to identify and grapple with these issues, ultimately they do not provide a satisfying solution to the problem of human sinfulness and personal culpability. However, perhaps in pointing out the deficiencies inherent in these presentations of the problem a coherent solution may arise when considering the broad theological considerations of the Christian tradition.

O'Callaghan, John

John O'Callaghan
Associate Professor of Philosophy
University of Notre Dame

A Story From Before We Can Remember: Augustine and the Tree of Life

Terrence Malick's Tree of Life is a really difficult film to watch, beautiful but difficult. It is difficult, not because of what it depicts, as if it were filled with outrageous violence or pointless sexuality. On those grounds it almost doesn't deserve the PG-13 rating it got, but more likely a PG. No. What we need to capture our sense of bewilderment is a different rating scale than Hollywood gives us. Something like E W for Easy-Watch, HW for Hard-Watch, DW for Difficult-Watch, RDW for Really- Difficult-Watch, and WTHIGOW for What-The-Hell-Is-Going-On-Watch. To react this way is perfectly consistent with being overwhelmed or stunned by the beauty of the film. But I think one aspect of the film that makes it difficult to watch is the effort to make sense of the story. What exactly is the story, and what are we to make of it? Reviewers of the film have certainly been at a bit of a loss to say anything more about it than that as a piece of filmmaking it is quite extraordinary. If you take a look at many of those reviews they often praise it for the gorgeous film making techniques, or the minimalist features of dialogue within it, or the non-linear narrative technique of flashback, etc., all very formal and safe ways of describing it.

Orlando, Nathan

Nathan Orlando
Graduate Student
Baylor University

Tron: A New Sunrise?

Within any given culture, how people configure and view the cosmos can vary substantially from generation to generation. It would stand to reason that the cultural artifacts crafted by each new generation, however resonant with those their predecessors, might differ fundamentally in the visions of the good presented. After a 28-year hiatus, Disney's revival of the Tron franchise demonstrates this, with Tron: Legacy offering a very different worldview than its predecessor. While 1982's Tron presents the corporation as the teleological final cause, 2010's Tron: Legacy rejects the theology of the corporation in favor of a more ambiguous, but decidedly secular humanist salvation, representing a larger cultural shift.

The original Tron introduces a computerized realm in the image of our own and ordered, ideally, by piety, but of the wrong sort. This kingdom, "the Grid," exists within the network of the Encom Corporation's computers and is populated by the various programs its software developers create, both as means of revenue—video games, accounting programs, etc—and to secure the network. The parallels to a Christian cosmos are heavy-handed: Programs appear in the image of their creator, they receive their specific telos from their creator, and they go to temples to communicate with their creators. The movie also never ceases to compare the Grid to the human city, assuming that as man is to God, program is to man. The plot also appears a thinly-veiled allegory for Christian piety. The despotic Master Control Program usurps the role of his programmer, persecutes belief in the "users" or programmers and it takes user—and Christ-allegory—Kevin Flynn to descend to the Grid and sacrifice himself to restore the proper order. But here, this paper will argue, the similarities to Christian piety end. The events are set in motion not by Flynn's desire to save programs or the like, but by his desire for recognition of his intellectual property—not an evil desire, but one certainly not borne of altruism. Further, the Grid is set up to profit the deified Encom Corporation and the salvation that Flynn offers serves merely to make the system more efficient rather than redeem or free it in any real sense. Whatever may have been the intention, the original Tron is allegory overwhelmed by its circumstances to point towards the worship of a false god.

A generation passes and the second Tron sets out to redeem the first. Kevin Flynn has disappeared and the movie begins with his son Sam waging guerilla war on the evil corporation Encom. While Encom is not depicted as intrinsically evil—the movie lauds Encom under CEO Kevin Flynn, the film establishes within the first five minutes that Encom now seeks the profit of its shareholders by deceiving its underprivileged customers. The son of Flynn, although majority shareholder, is introduced as a Robin Hood rogue by stealing from Encom and sharing the latest program on the internet for free. Far removed from the message of the original, the sequel never casts efficiency or profit in a positive light and replaces the desire for acknowledgement of intellectual property rights with the millennial lauding of open-sourced material. When we do see Kevin Flynn again, we find him repentant of his prior hubris and a dedicated student of Zen and selflessness. Tron: Legacy does not share its predecessor's vision of the good.

Yet, Tron: Legacy does not settle upon any one alternative vision of the good, suggesting only a vague, secular humanistic vision of the cosmos. The second Tron continues the Christian symbolism by forming a trinity of Flynn the father, Flynn the son, and their mysterious companion Quorra. But Tron: Legacy also makes reference to Zen Buddhism and Greek mythology, ultimately pivoting on a series of unconnected maxims rather than a coherent view of the good. The appearance of Quorra, created by spontaneous evolution and present to "reform the human condition," only complicates the message by introducing a secular creation story. Tron: Legacy is anything but clear on its alternative.

The transition from the first Tron to Tron: Legacy marks a substantial transition between two generations' understanding of the good. The 1982 original displays piety, one directed towards a false god but still a piety. The second shows a profound disorientation and disillusion with the cosmos. Not sure of which god to worship, Tron: Legacy finds man waiting for a "miracle," waiting for some axiological vision to find us. While this paper will not venture so far as to proclaim one film "better" than the other, it will use this difference to elaborate upon the larger cultural shift in faith.

Parmelee, Stephen

Stephen Parmelee
Associate Professor of English and Film Studies
Pepperdine University

Suffering and Forgiveness: The Precarious Nature of Belief in Lee Chang-Dong's Secret Sunshine

Lee Chang-Dong's 2007 film Secret Sunshine offers a non-believing filmmaker's sophisticated and reasonably-balanced view of contemporary [Korean] Christianity and several attendant issues: how a non-believer deals with personal tragedy; how a subsequent conversion may change one's view of the nature of suffering; the role of the Christian community in ministering to another person in the travails of grief; the nature of conversion and its attendant questions pertaining to the susceptibility to religious persuasion of a non- believer who is suffering; and, perhaps most significantly, the true role of forgiveness on the part of the victimized believer. Though the film may in some ways be compared to the Book of Job because of its treatment of the theme of suffering on the part of the believer, the analogy does not fully hold up because Job was a long-time believer before the onset of his afflictions. The film's original Korean title, Miryang, is significant in a variety of ways: it is the name of the town in Korea in which the film is set; it is the name of an actual town in Korea and the location for the movie's filming; and its translation into English is "Secret Sunshine," a phrase that takes on partiucalr meaning given the context of the subject matter and events in the film. Through its script and the visceral performance of the film's lead actress, Do-yeon Jeon, the film is both aesthetically and theologically effective and sophisticated. It raises and portrays these issues in a manner that is emotionally and intellectually powerful but that also avoids the pitfalls that often afflict many films that deal with matters of faith, especially that of melodramatic, two-dimensional characterizations of either the saintly believer on the one hand or the hypocritical or pompous charlatan on the other. Ultimately, the film's conclusion is at best ambiguous in terms of its view of the viability of the Christian--or, indeed, any--faith.

Pate, Ronald D.

Ronald D. Pate
Adjunct Faculty
Union University

Neo-realist Film Director Ermanno Olmi: A Christian Looking at the World With Others

In this paper I propose to present and discuss the work of Ermanno Olmi, an Italian film director I believe to be immensely important in helping Christians both participate vocationally in, and experience film that is exemplary of the Christian faith. The 83 year old Olmi from Bergamo, Italy is an award winning and celebrated neo-realist film director. In 2004 I had the pleasure of watching a broad selection of Olmi's films. The NorthWest Film Institute in Portland, Oregon featured a dozen of his works over the course of a month. Several times each week I descended into the basement theatre at the Portland Museum where I watched each of the Olmi selections. To this day I treasure those experiences as each film inspired me to new visions of the creative order of the Triune God.

Olmi's works demonstrate a sacramental trajectory of Christian witness in film. Some of the unique features of his work include his choice to use the places around his native home to provide him with the material for his many films. He also utilizes the real people of a place as primary actors in his films. Olmi writes, directs, shoots and edits all of his films, which enables him to create a profoundly synergistic work. His focus is on film as a participatory craft of discovery and representation, and not on box office success. In one of his rare interviews with Bert Cardullo, Olmi described his work as "looking at the world with others" -- a way of entering into a more sacramental engagement of heaven on earth with the whole of creation.

Olmi's works span a variety of storylines -- from literal Biblical narratives such as his film Genesis, to his creative take on the Journey of the Magi in Keep on Walking, where a small child and a priest lead residents of a 19th century peasant town on their yearly journey and re-enactment of the classic story. Keep on Walking demonstrates what theologian Hans Boersma's recent book "Heavenly Participation" goes to great length to describe -- a theology that God is mysteriously present in the mundane to all of those who see and enter into it well.

Many of Olmi's works also offer social critique through stories of conflicts around culture and class. His autobiographical Il Posto (The Position), tells the story of his first job, when he departs from the agrarian culture of his parents into the modern world where one works in order to consume. In the celebrated Tree of Wooden Clogs, an historical drama which received the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or award, we see the conflicts of class and culture at the intersection of an advancing capitalism that denies social interconnectedness and undermines a sacramental way of life. Olmi brilliantly depicts that how we treat others -- including creation, is at the heart of a sacramental way of being that is being destroyed in modern Italy.

In this paper I will focus on three of the above Olmi films: Tree of Wooden Clogs; Il Posto; and Keep on Walking. These three films will provide a glimpse into Olmi's sacramental vision of film, and how that plays out in terms of subject matter as well as aesthetics and method. This paper about these works by Olmi should help add to our notions of what helps make a film and the work of film uniquely Christian.

Peirce, Carrie Marjorie

Carrie Marjorie Peirce
Associate Professor of Sociology
Azusa Pacific University

Movies as Prophetic Text: Amistad, Schindler's List and Twelve Years a Slave

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are in the midst of a mythopoeic archeological dig. Its borders are jury-rigged right now— inevitably others will occupy the site. As Christians we must be actively engaged in excavating narratives of the marginalized. Unearthing and narrating these stories draw us toward a new way of being in the world; it will find our own imaginations expanded and transformed…and gradually form us into a new people. (Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays, Learning to Read the Bible Again: Beyond Criticism). This paper will use three movies: Amistad, Schindler's List, and Twelve Years a Slave to explore marginalized narratives, how these movies tell their story[s] and how they illuminate our understanding of the Christian story in hope of transforming Christian practice.

The stories we tell imply our underlying values and Christian practice. Bryan Stone, Faith and Film, Theological Themes at the Cinema describes film narratives as "reveal[ing] what we value as human beings, our hopes and our fears. [They] ask our deepest questions, express our mightiest rage and reflect our most basic dreams." In After Virtue Alistair MacIntyre argues "I can only answer the question 'What am I to do?' if I can answer the prior question 'Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?' . . . there is no way to give us an understanding of any society, including our own, except through" stories.

We narrate the experiences of the power and the privileged and ignore the stories of the marginalized and oppressed. Given the evocative power of stories, listening to and viewing stories these stories have "have the potential to expose social and cultural tools of oppression and endorse an alternative cultural imagination for new ways of being in the world" (Walter Breuggemann, The Prophetic Imagination). Films narratives often function as prophetic texts: warning us of the dangers ahead and inspiring us to change the future for the good

Film narratives as recounted by the privileged presume ours are the only stories that matter—they are master narratives about the collective (a)moral conscience of the powerful and effectively erase our culpability in burying the stories of the marginalized. Geoffrey Hartman claims modern construction of our stories are "invented to nationalize consensus by suggesting a uniform and heroic past" and makes it possible for us to sacrifice others to feed the already exaggerated ego of the privileged and powerful. Jacques Ellul locates these narratives in Christian communities, and in Christian people. Telling only the stories of the privileged, Ellul argues, assures exclusively power-full hands sculpt the Kingdom of God on earth. "Nothing" Ellul laments, "could be more vainly presumptuous, more ridiculously sad, more crucially impertinent."

In contrast, narratives situated in the experiences of Others reveal the despair of the powerless and expose the intolerable constraints we impose on the lives of those who have lived and continue to live with persecution, addiction, murder, malnutrition, imprisonment, poverty, war and neglect. These narratives of the other reveal our fear of difference and lay bare what Zygmunt Baumann describes as the "collateral damage" of humans silencing voices interrogating "power-full narratives". "In every possible way create the impression that only some are in God's favor and the others out. By our dress, color, nationality, wealth, age, gender, education, language, looks, and health, others can recognize instantly whether we are blessed or cursed, beloved or rejected. To say God does NOT sit atop the pyramid of power legitimating the entire edifice, does NOT favor some and reject others, is to expose the entire structure as a human contrivance established in defiance of God's very nature. (Walter Wink in The Powers that Be describes"

Until very recently the least frequently told narratives "tended to be either heavily coded or depicted as depressive, self-hating" narratives . . . [but] there are un-told narratives that introduce "a different set of images: good, bad, risible, provocative, gentle and so forth, but definitely different into the public consciousness. (James Allison, Following the Still Small Voice)". Exhuming differing sets of images—marginalized narratives—contests the imagination of the dominant group and exposes suffering with others as the heart of the Christian story, "open to all the cries and protests of those who suffer" [Bauckham and Hart). Listening to and viewing an untold story through film "help us . . . to relate to our world and our destiny: the origins and goals of our lives, as they embody in narrative form specific ways of acting out that relatedness . . . to adopt and be adopted by a particular story, we are in fact assuming a set of practices which will shape the ways we relate" to one another." (Stanley Hauerwas and David Burrell, From System to Story).

The very nature of a film's narrative confronts viewers with that which is transcendent and beyond their mundane experience, granting meaning to others experiences by exposing the part of reality that is constructed by Christians with power and privilege. Even if the content of a specific film does not deal directly with a faith-full text, storytelling in film can m ediate an awareness of otherness, of the transcendent and, therefore serve a theological function.

Poe, Harry Lee

Harry Lee Poe
Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture
Union University

Edgar Allan Poe and the Problem with Christian Movies

Edgar Allan Poe laid out his theory of storytelling in a number of essays and reviews that he published in national magazines in the mid-1830s to late 1840s. Poe warned that in the growing complexity of urban society, the average person would have a growing difficulty in attending to a lengthy story or poem. Poe urged writers to learn the skill of telling a story in a single sitting of no more than two hours. He also argued against lecturing the audience on some point of morality, politics, religion, or philosophy. Other forms of communication, such as the essay, lecture, or sermon, conveyed logical instruction far better than a story. Poe insisted that the object of art should be the creation of a desired effect in the audience. In his understanding of plot, Poe argued for the "unity of effect" in every aspect of the narrative. Film makers like D. W. Griffith and Alfred Hitchcock adapted Poe's philosophy to the movies they made.

The chief obstacle to successful film making by Christians seems to arise from the failure to appreciate what Poe understood about the way a story works. The United States Army demonstrated in World War II that celluloid can successfully reproduce a lecture on the silver screen, but an army training film does not pack them into the theaters. Self-identified "Christian films" have tended to labor under the obligation to present a lecture or sermon or philosophical argument within the film in order to deserve the status of "Christian film."

This paper will explore what Christian film makers can learn from Poe and his film making disciples about the advantages and limitations of movies. Ironically, film makers who have attempted to adapt Poe to the silver screen have generally failed in their 250 plus attempts. Few of the Poe films are good. They tend to suffer from a plague similar to the "Christian film." They seem to have the view that a Poe film must be "over the top" in its exaggerated gore, while the success of Poe's tales lies in his talent for understatement which requires the reader to engage the story and provide the horror from their own experience. Hitchcock stated it this way: "I want to do what Edgar Allan Poe did; tell a totally improbable story but make people believe it could happen to them any Tuesday afternoon."

Pool-Funai, Angela L.

Angela L. Pool-Funai
Associate Professor, Political Science
Souther Utah University

From the Golden Rule to the Golden Path: Exploring Universal Political Truths in Frank Herbert's Dune

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction classic, Dune. One of the best-selling science fiction novels of all time, Dune debuted on the big screen in 1984 (Universal Studios) and was adapted for television in 2000, followed by Children of Dune in 2003.

Although not an overtly religious tale, the Dune saga is interwoven within a diverse socio-political climate – one not so unlike our own – and features threads of universal political truths. An epic battle spanning generations unfolds in Herbert's fictional desert world of Arrakis, as the Atreides family must fight for survival and social justice. This reflective analysis considers the historical context of the Golden Rule and the Golden Path that draws on the influence of philosophers Immanuel Kant and John Rawls.

Poston, Larry

Larry Poston
Professor of Religion
Nyack College

Kelly Burke
Nyack College

Jesus and Jihad: Hollywood's Depictions of Christianity and Islam

Using Kevin Reynolds' "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (1991) and Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven" (2005) as the primary subject material, this essay explores the ways in which Hollywood film producers have portrayed Christianity's relationship with Islam and vice versa.

Reynold's film traces Robin of Locksley's return to England after fighting in Richard the Lionheart's failed attempt to recapture Jerusalem in the Third Crusade. Robin is accompanied by a Muslim warrior he has freed from prison, and much of the remaining narrative explores the attempts by the Muslim to understand the customs of the Englishman he consistently addresses as "Christian." Robin, on the other hand, is often overwhelmed by the wisdom and "street savvy" of this Middle Easterner who is supposed to be considered an "infidel barbarian."

More complex is Ridley Scott's version of the events between the Second and Third Crusades when the Muslim general Salah ad-Din (Saladin) takes back Jerusalem from its European conquerors. Scott's portrayal of Roman Catholic Christianity juxtaposed with Ayyubid Islam is masterfully accomplished – but is it historically accurate? Are the depictions of the Knights Templar and the Muslim mujahidun, for instance, faithful to the actual persons who lived, fought, and died in time and space? Were the adherents of Islam in reality characterized by such nobility and the adherents of Christianity by such ignominy as Kingdom of Heaven intimates? Or did the scriptwriters take liberties with their narration of historical events in order to set forth a particular bias regarding these religious systems?

This essay will describe in detail the political, social and religious agendas discernible in these two films and comment on the significance of the fact that one was produced before and the other following the events of September 11, 2001.

Poston, Linda

Linda Poston
Dean of Library Services
Nyack College

Larry Poston
Professor of Religion
Nyack College

"Though Seeing, They Do Not See:" The Media and the Movies

Are secular media organizations adequately equipped to evaluate the underlying and behind-the-scenes beliefs and practices of religious organizations? Are there not fundamental differences between the presuppositions and worldviews of secular media and those of religiously-oriented persons and institutions?

The Tanakh's Book of Proverbs, for instance, states that "evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully" (Proverbs 28:5). Would not the secular media be classified by the religious as in some sense "evildoers," based on the admission by most media personnel to an atheistic or agnostic philosophy of life? When the apostle Paul states that "the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned," and that "the spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment" (1 Corinthians 2:14-15), are these claims nothing more than a form of spiritual arrogance and a failure to be held accountable for one's actions? Or do Christians actually operate with an epistemology that is inaccessible to non-Christians? And when the Qur'an notes that "it is not fitting for a man that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration…" (Sura 42:51), implying that the spiritually devout have access to "inspired information" that the unbeliever does not have, is such information essentially incontestable by secularists?

This essay will examine the ways that secular media acquire, interpret, and disseminate information regarding religiously-themed films and will seek to evaluate the media's fundamental biases in relation to various religions' claims that their teachings and practices are divinely inspired and essentially incomprehensible to "unbelievers." It will be demonstrated that media may well be adequately equipped to evaluate certain aspects of religious ideas and practices at a specific existential level, but are completely incapable of comprehension and evaluation at another level.

Premkumar, Finney

Finney Premkumar
Research Scholar
Azusa Pacific University

The Jolly Trio: The Revelatory, Participatory and Correlative Dimensions of Film

Film festivals continue to flourish, drawing thousands of participants all over the world. Major festivals in Berlin, Cannes, and Toronto screen both popular and avant garde films, which undeniably both reflect and shape the artistic and cultural climate of our time. The influential current of cinema both at the explicit and implicit dimensions shape not only the individual but the collective consciousness and conscience of the contemporary social context we inhabit. The insidious power as well as extravagant grace exemplified on screens, many a times overcoming even language (and thereby cultural) boundaries, issues an urgent call to the church to respond in a biblically grounded and culturally relevant manner. There are many avenues through which film or cinema can be analyzed, criticized and positively evaluated. I wish to look at three central themes that seem to underlie this phenomena providing it with undergirding momentum and persuasive reign.

First and foremost, I wish to discuss film or cinema as a source of revelation about ourselves and the world in which we live. Although much caution may be warranted by the excesses of many popular movies, recent theological reflection on film is taking a more positive approach to their role in our current context. Rather than warning about the danger that movies might besiege our minds, they ask questions about the revelatory role of movies in our lives, and invite us to draw movie-viewing into the realm of spiritual discipline and theological reflection. If movies have become part of our regular routine, in which even church fellowship groups are now resorting to them (in addition to the Bible) as resources for generating discussions about what matters in life, we would do well to become self-conscious about what we are doing with movies, and what movies might be doing to us. This disposition has often been challenged by those in the church for whom the aesthetic has been diminished in the face of a rationalistic religion that reduces faith to dogma and truth to propositional content. Film reveals human nature, dispositions and destinies in a creative and imaginative language, a language that needs to be redeemed and redirected (or re-described in Richard Rorty's language) in many areas by a biblically grounded evaluative effort.

Secondly, film or cinema is a medium for participation. The cinema is not only a mirror and a window but a sets of lens through which we participate in the realities it defines and offers for our appraisal. We don't just see a movie or a film, we see through a lens that creates a world for us to see. Wittgenstein called it "seeing-as", a conceptual scheme that provides meaning and translational power within our immediate linguistic usage. Although we might not agree with the deductions of Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster) in Contact, we can identify with her emotional dispositions by finding parallels with our own. There is an empathetic participation that marks the epistemic dimensions of film transcending what can be explicitly stated in propositions or dogmatic form. The epistemic access that this dimension unveils shows the tacit dimensions of knowing, what Michael Polanyi called "indwelling", a word that in many ways expresses the German term "Einfählung" (or "feeling into"). It integrates the rational, emotional and psychological features of what constitutes the knowing subject in a participatory indwelling that goes beyond what mere objectivity can demand or secure.

Thirdly, film or cinema moves us to the point of correlation. If film or cinema really involves revelation and participation then we need to be involved in correlation. Film can be an important dialogue partner for Christians who are interested in thinking seriously about their faith and its relevance in our world today. We need a constructive engagement rather than a silent standoff. A deep theological and philosophical reflection on the cinema needs to be done by keeping in mind two things that the eminent theologian Paul Tillich pointed out decades ago. We need to be conscious of the 'message and the situation'. The correlation between the eternal truth of the foundations of our message and the contemporary context in which it finds creative and concrete expression. All dimensions of life, including the cinema, inevitably point to the human situation or condition and ultimately to that which transcends and thereby cannot be categorized and contained by our humanity. The task of the theologian of this hour is to integrate what is in line with biblical truth while redeeming and redirecting what runs contrary to its ordinances.

Radford, Paul

Paul Radford
Associate Professor
Bob Jones University

"Instant Uplift": Flannery O'Connor's Sentimentality in Christian Film

Southern Gothic author Flannery O'Connor had an acute distaste for sentimentality and specifically warned Christian storytellers against it. Though she never developed a thorough argument against the use of excessive emotionalism, there are scattered references and compelling metaphors laced throughout her two collections of non-fiction writing, Mystery &Manners and Habit of Being. Furthermore, her parables include plotlines and characters which provide examples for theoretical points she is trying to make. O'Connor's warning has never been more relevant than it is to today's Christian artists. The Church has developed a taste for the saccharin-sweet, in a well-intended, understandable search for family-friendly entertainment. Beyond the concerns of other storytellers, filmmakers navigate additional pitfalls when facing the creation soundtracks, close-ups, and the acting choices of inexperienced artists. A critique of two films using O'Connor's theories regarding sentimentality shows the polar opposite approaches to sentimental content in Tender Mercies (1983) and Courageous (2011).

Revell, Roger L.

Roger L. Revell
Th.M. Student
Vancouver School of Theology

Visionary Orthodoxy: Pondering the Role of Imagination in Theology with Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"The use of film in Nazi propaganda was unprecedented. With crafty, sophisticated reliance on the silver screen, images and words were vested with a mythic and arresting quality to advance the sinister vision of the Third Reich. This paper begins by exploring the function of film in infusing Germany with the malevolent desires and aims of the Nazi's. The Nazi's, through film and other mediums, effectively utilized imagination and human creativity to disseminate their dark ideology.

In this recognition, a question emerges. Should the church, in like manner, use imagination to advance its theological vision? Is imagination a vital tool in the church's resistance to the ugliness and blindness of the present age? if so, how should it be used? These questions are no strangers to contention in Christian history, especially among Protestants.

These very issues faced Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he endured the harrowing events of the Third Reich. Along these lines, his commentary on Genesis provides some instructive insights on the place of imagination in the work of Christian theology. His handling of the text models a mode of theological reflection and extrapolation purposed, in part, to subvert and undermine Nazi propaganda. While his endeavor hails from a stiuation of desperation and necessity, it can be gleaned for insights and guidance that are still of service to the church. Bonhoeffer's practice, while unattached to film-making, sheds general light on the interchange between theology and the artistic capacities of humans. these lessons hold promise for Christian witness in the vital communicative mediums of our culture, including film and other visual arts."

Roe, Darrell L.

Darrell L. Roe
Associate Professor of Communication Studies
East Texas Baptist University

The Gospel and the Western Gun: Christian Motifs as Plot Points in High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider

Academic analyses of secular films have long recognized that the gospel story can be an effective plot vehicle. Numerous motion picture genes, including westerns, have utilized the intriguing storytelling aspects found in the central, unifying Christian theme. The most evocative gospel motif elements in cinema show the arrival of a moral character who helps the downtrodden and subsequently faces adversity from immoral characters. He teaches others to be like himself and to spread his message. Ultimately, the protagonist must undergo death, but he will be resurrected in some form and continue to help those whose lives he has forever transformed. Trammell (2012) posited that Christian analyses of secular films share three common themes, specifically, that they consider the affective power, the worldview, and the artistic excellence of the movie being critiqued. This comparative critical analysis identifies and contrasts eleven gospel motif elements across these three themes, using two Clint Eastwood- directed westerns, High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider.

Ross, Taylor C.

Taylor C. Ross
M.T.S. Student
Duke Divinity School

Julie Michelle Hamilton
Creative Research Scholar
Fujimura Institute

Terrence Malick's Triptych: Theological Explorations in Givenness

The present proposal is for a panel discussion of the theological significance of the films of Terrence Malick. The two papers are intended to compliment each other and encompass an extended contemplation of Malick's deep theological resonance with both classical Christian doctrine and contemporary philosophy. Following the essays, both authors will conclude the session with reflections on the importance of Malick's engagement with such theological discourse in contemporary cinema. It is the contention of each author that Malick's films directly address matters of substantial importance for the Christian tradition and, as such, comprise a significant cinematic recovery of theological discourse from the "confessional" margins of contemporary culture.

The Glory of Creation

Ross, Taylor C.

Taylor C. Ross
M.T.S. Student
Duke Divinity School

Julie Michelle Hamilton
Creative Research Scholar
Fujimura Institute

Terrence Malick's Triptych: Theological Explorations in Givenness

The present proposal is for a panel discussion of the theological significance of the films of Terrence Malick. The two papers are intended to compliment each other and encompass an extended contemplation of Malick's deep theological resonance with both classical Christian doctrine and contemporary philosophy. Following the essays, both authors will conclude the session with reflections on the importance of Malick's engagement with such theological discourse in contemporary cinema. It is the contention of each author that Malick's films directly address matters of substantial importance for the Christian tradition and, as such, comprise a significant cinematic recovery of theological discourse from the "confessional" margins of contemporary culture.

The Glory of Creations Gift: Terrence Malick and the Doctrine of Creatio ex nihilo

Taylor C. Ross

During the past two decades, theologians writing under the banner of "Radical Orthodoxy" have broadly advocated a return to the classical Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo as part of their overall project to liberate metaphysical speculation from its sequestered shackles among the religious margins of public life and discourse. On their account, it is precisely this uniquely patristic metaphysical formulation that alone adequately accounts for the necessary ontological divide between creation and creator and, subsequently, provides phenomenological grounding for the irreducible givenness of human experience and being itself. In this essay, I would like to extend such patristic ressourcement to examine the films of Terrence Malick, using as a focusing theological lens the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. It is this essential cosmological principle, I argue, which forms the theological foundation of Malicks exploration of the mystery of being in his corpus of films, especially his most recent three, The New World (2005), The Tree of Life (2011), and To the Wonder (2012). This triptych of films in particular, I argue, comprises an immersive visual meditation on the givenness of being that lies at the heart of the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. First, I briefly canvas the classical articulation of creatio ex nihilo, especially as it is developed and expounded in the writings of Augustine (354-430) and Gregory of Nyssa (c.330-c.395). Second, I examine both the content and form of Malick's latest trio of films in order to demonstrate their suggestive resonance with these patristic voices. It is Malick's fluid and saturating visual style, I suggest, that enables him to effectively transpose these theological considerations into film. His direction of the editing process in particular, I argue, yields for the viewer an effusive phenomenological experience that itself mirrors the gratuitous overflow of being in the Triune Lord's self-donating gift of creation. Each of these films, in their use of nonlinear narrative and ever-flowing imagery, overwhelm the viewer and immerse him or her in a visual experience that challenges aesthetic expectation and defies any attempt to extract static discursive explanation. Malick's films, therefore, encompass and invite a visual contemplation of the sheer gratuity of being itself and the immense glory of such divine donation.

"What is this Love that loves us?": Terrence Malick's To the Wonder, Kierkegaard's Works of Love, and Jean-Luc Marion's Phenomenology of Givenness

Julie Hamilton

In Terrence Malick's most recent film, To The Wonder (2013), he considers the relationship of Divine Love with the individual soul and its corresponding relationships to the Other as neighbor. Drawing upon both Kierkegaard's Works of Love and Jean-Luc Marion's phenomenology of givenness, I consider the film as an exploration in the phenomenology of love. Considering Kierkegaard's claim that love is known through both revelation and as a kind of duty or work towards the neighbor, I engage Malick's interwoven narratives of the priest and the couple as archetypes in exercising celibate and married love. Malick astutely portrays humanity's failure to love selflessly, free from agenda or self-deception, whether clergy or laity. Yet despite this apparent faithlessness, Malick demonstrates that grace operates on the human will, transfiguring broken fragments into a charitable vessels of love towards God and the neighbor.

Following from the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, that all of life is sheer gratuity, I contend that Malick incorporates Jean-Luc Marion's maxim from In Excess: "All which gives itself does not necessarily show itself." Malick invites his viewer into a non-linear narrative, attesting to memory's witness of love, revealing its presence or giftedness over time. Malick provides the existential cinematic space to demonstrate that the love of the Other is contingent on receiving and participating in Divine Love, specifically in To The Wonder through the liturgical performance of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. This is aided by Malick's iconographic leitmotifs and distinctive voice-over narration enhancing his phenomenological dramaturgy. It is through both his painterly cinematography and his bare-boned script that Malick allows the film to act on its viewers in such a way that engages our own participation in reassembling the film's structure, further underscoring the phenomenological layers within the film's composition."

Rowan Fannin, Jordan

Jordan Rowan Fannin
Ph.D. Student
Baylor University

Rooting Oneself at the Theatre: Cinema as Antidote to the Ills of Humanity in Walker Percy's The Moviegoer

Walker Percy has said that his novel, The Moviegoer, adopts the posture of a pathologist with a suspicion that something is wrong. The specific pathology diagnosed in the novel is a loss of individuality and identity wrought by the post-modern, post-Christian age. However, both this diagnosis and its cure revolve around two of the central themes of the book – place and film.

Human beings, Percy believes, are fundamentally placed creatures: to be a self is to be placed. Yet we are, at present, denizens of a lost age, suffering the malady of malaise and identity loss that comes from our current state of dis-location and dis-placement. We know neither who we are nor where we belong, and to Percy, this can be said to be one and the same.

In Percy's National Book Award winning novel, both the ills of the modern world (dislocation) and its antidote (rootedness) meet in a single place: the movie theatre. Accordingly, this paper will examine Percy's use of film and of the act of moviegoing itself to better understand how it is that one places oneself in the world, and how it is that the cinematic experience does just that.

Specifically, it will follow the protagonist, Binx Bolling – Percy's wayfarer and pilgrim – who comes to understand himself and his world through the experience of "moviegoing" and through the reality of the movie theatres themselves.

In the emptiness and isolation of his surroundings, these theatres provide tactile and sensory means for sticking himself in the world, for anchoring him in his place, which is the only possibility he has for eluding the threat constantly before him: becoming an Anyone who can live Anyplace. Without the concrete reality of the theatres the visits, he confesses that he "should be lost, cut loose metaphysically speaking" and left to drift in the malaise of modern life.

By attending to Percy's narrative, this paper will explore the delightful irony between escape and rootedness and how film (or more particularly, moviegoing) crystallizes these questions for us, both as film-watchers and as members of the Body of Christ. Percy may deftly trade on the practical wisdom that theatres are places of isolation and pretense, playing films that offer all the wrong promises of escape and fiction (consider the marquee at Binx's neighborhood theater: "Where Happiness Costs So Little"); yet, he does so in order to upend and undermine that sentiment and instead reveal how moviegoing opens a particular world for Bolling and places him in it.

Percy's juxtaposition of film (a false image, a celluloid imitation) and moviegoing (which can only occur in particular places, among particular people, in the concrete realities of one's own neighborhood) offers us insight into his larger diagnosis of the human condition, which is plagued by isolation, malaise, and emptiness.

Yet, rather than being a place of escape for Bolling, the movie house itself becomes a place of insight and identity, the antidote to this human diagnosis. Thus, the movie house also becomes for us a way to consider our own places, as well as their intrinsic connection to identity and theological descriptions of self.

This paper will conclude with a brief consideration of how this idea takes on central significance in Christian theology, with its Incarnational claims that God became flesh – became Someone who lived Someplace.

Ryan, Scott C.

Scott C. Ryan
Ph.D. Student
Baylor University

Man's Best Friend: Theological Reflections on Minkyu Lee's Animated Short "Adam and Dog"

In his 2013 Oscar-nominated and 2012 Annie Award winning animated short film, "Adam and Dog," Minkyu Lee offers a creative interpretation of the biblical creation story with attention to the relationship between the primordial human and the domesticated canine. Lee served as both producer and director for this traditional, hand-drawn 2-D animation, influenced by the work of Malick, Coppola, Tarkovsky, and Godard. Utilizing both my own theological analysis of this independent film and interviews with Lee, I suggest that "Adam and Dog" offers an opportunity for fruitful reflection on the creation story and several salient theological themes, including humanity's relationship with creation, the far-reaching effects of sin, and hope."Adam and Dog" takes the viewer through the basic narrative of the creation and fall accounts in the canonical text of Genesis through visual impression rather than direct dialogue. After opening on a waking dog alone in Eden, this animal soon befriends Adam, puzzles over the effects of the off-screen fall of Adam and Eve, and later follows the humans out of paradise into the barren landscape of their punishment. Lee admits that although his faith motivated the project, he did not want the film to be overtly religious. Thus, this subtle and suggestive rendition opens the way to a number of interpretative possibilities. In order to explore some of the theological points of the film, this presentation first will analyze the portrayal of Eden prior to the fall as well as the introduction of sin and its effects. The impressionistic style, especially in the use of color and 2-D style of animation, communicate the effects of the fall from paradisiacal Eden as a result of the initial sin of humanity. These effects extend to all of the created order –- an important point running throughout the biblical narratives.

The introduction of Eve into Eden, however, produces a problematic aspect of the film. Eve's entrance leads to a disruption in the relationship between Adam and the dog, and at least suggests that the blame falls on Eve for humanity's sin. In spite of the consequences of the fall, the motif of hope arises most vividly and powerfully in the final sequence. Here the film offers the hope of God's reconciliation between creation and humanity in the character of the dog, which is yet another important theme running throughout the canon. The exodus of the canine from Eden into a strange world, the wag of its tail upon meeting up with Adam and Eve, and Eve's kneeling down to pet the dog before they venture together into the fog, point to God's continuing presence with humanity in spite of the fall. As a final point of reflection, this presentation will additionally suggest that Lee's permutation of the creation narrative correlates with the Jewish practice during the Second Temple period (200BC-200AD) of "re-writing Scripture." In this genre of literature –represented by texts such as Jubilees, Life of Adam and Eve, and Apocalypse of Moses –authors seek to re-tell the Genesis version with their own theological emphases. Thus, "Adam and Dog" represents a faithful attempt to make sense of the world and the biblical narratives from alternative viewpoints and theological emphases.

Schuyler, Carol A.

Carol A. Schuyler
Independent Scholar

"Why, God?": Contemporary Interpretations of Job in Cinema

Characteristics of the Job story include the following: disasters in the protagonist's personal relationships, property and professional status, and physical well-being; the speed of his downfall; the test of his loyalty to God; his protestation of righteousness vs. his friends' doubt of it; the justice of God and how to approach Him to question it in one's own case; the poignancy of the losses when life is fleeting and death is the end; the source of evil in the world; intimations of sublimity when God replies; whether restoration is possible.

I will present variations on these narrative points and also on imagery in the following films: The Wrong Man (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956), A Serious Man (Coen Brothers, 2009); and Disgrace (adapted from the J. M. Coetzee novel, 2008). Other films I will reference are Suing the Devil (2011), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), The Tree of Life (2011), and Life Is Beautiful (1997). Filmed adaptations of Neil Simon's God's Favorite and Archibald MacLeish's J.B. have not been made; Will Smith has been "attached" to Joe since 2011, but further progress has not been reported.

The Wrong Man is nonfiction. When 38-year-old Manny Balestrero's wife, Rose, tells him removal of her wisdom teeth will cost $300, he reassures her that he still considers himself a lucky man. They are in love, they have two bright sons, and he likes his job as a bass player at the Stork Club— though it's too expensive for him to take her there for an evening out. The next day he's among the unluckiest of men. While trying to borrow money on his wife's life insurance policy, three employees identify him as the armed robber who previously stole from them. Police intercept him as he is climbing the outside steps of his house at dinnertime. Thereafter, he is subjected to various humiliations as negative coincidences point toward his guilt for the police. His wife comes to assume the guilt and also to burden him with it; he then wonders if he is somehow guilty. Manny's mother urges him to pray, and a miraculous favorable coincidence proves his innocence, but is that too late for his wife's sanity?

In A Serious Man, Larry Gopnik is a thirtyish physics professor in 1967 Minneapolis whose main concern should be his upcoming tenure review. He is a righteous person though not the most observant Jew. Still, why is Hashem (The Name) raining down these catastrophes: his wife suddenly asks for a get and divorce so she can marry his best friend—and they order him to move into a motel with his deadbeat brother as she empties his bank accounts; his teenage son and daughter behave outrageously; a student and his father offer a bribe and threaten a lawsuit if he doesn't take it; a gun-crazy neighbor disputes a property boundary; three rabbis offer useless advice; and Columbia Record Club duns him for payment for records he hasn't ordered. But the doctor says his health is fine—until he calls with an urgent update.

In post-apartheid Disgrace, it's clear why English professor David Lurie, who seduces one student too many, loses his position and pension but not why his daughter, Lucy, should be abandoned by her lesbian partner and gang-raped by natives, which results in pregnancy, and endure the slaughter of dogs she kennels, the wreckage of her home, the setting-afire of her father, and the necessity of a "marriage" to a native who offers protection, so she can remain in her cottage—much against David's advice.

Job does not have his day in court with God, but in Suing the Devil (written and directed by evangelical Tim Chey), the protagonist succeeds in summoning his malefactor, Satan. In The Devil and Daniel Webster, a New Hampshire farmer comes to have as little regard for material possessions as does Job. The Tree of Life (Terence Malick) opens with a quotation from God's whirlwind speech and proceeds to show God's presence in the world. An individual family in Life Is Beautiful stands in for the race of Jews suffering HaShoah. In Where Is My Father? The Story of Job (2010), Job's wife becomes sympathetic to her husband.

In these films I consider possible causal connections between past and present circumstances in one's life, between family members, or from past generations; what conclusions can be drawn about secular vs. religious or spiritual versions, and about genres; and contributions contemporary theology might make.

Silverman, Eric J.

Eric J. Silverman
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Christopher Newport University

Some Varieties of "Religious Film" Experience

In recent years, there has been an increased awareness of the importance of distinctly religious storytelling in popular culture including 'Christian Film making'. This paper explores six distinct ways in which a film might be described as 'Christian.' These six facets are neither mutually exclusive nor is any intended to serve as necessary conditions for Christian film making. Finally, I do not suggest that this is an exhaustive list. I have ordered the list from the more overt types of Christian films to the less overt types, and suggest that understanding the more subtle ways in which a film might be Christian might be particularly important for cultural engagement.

One obvious way for a film to be viewed as "Christian" is for its plot to draw directly from recognizable Christian stories from the Scriptures or from Christian history. Movies like Luther, Son of God, Prince of Egypt, Noah, and even David and Bathsheba would be examples of such films. Furthermore, within this category it is possible to distinguish between those stories that adhered closely to the traditional plots and those that took considerable liberties.

Another important facet of Christian film making is whether a story has an explicitly Christian moral. These films are distinguished by the presence of an applied message that is identified as overtly and distinctly Christian that the audience is encouraged to apply to their own lives. Many of the video series used in children's Sunday schools as well as Veggie Tales would be Christian in this sense. Examples of films of this type would include Fireproof and Courageous. One drawback to these sorts of films is that they tend to be so overtly Christian in their message and identity that they can unnecessarily alienate potential audience members.

A third way that a film might be Christian would be the prominent use of Christian characters engaging attractively in distinctly Christian behavior. A great example of this category can be seen in Les Miserables's character Jean Valjean and the Bishop Myriel. Myriel's generosity and willingness to forgive, as well as, Valjean's genuine life transformation are both portrayed as unambiguously positive and distinctly Christian.

A fourth way that a film might be Christian would be through the use of recognizable Christian archetypes. These stories use traditional Christian themes and archetypal symbols, often without any overt mention of Christianity. Within this category there are a range of approaches. On one extreme is the case of outright allegory. The Chronicles of Narnia are a good example of this approach. Aslan is portrayed as the all good wise rightful king who offers himself as a substitutionary sacrifice for a rightfully condemned criminal. It does not take a theologian to recognize the Christ imagery in such a story. The Christian themes and archetypes of other stories such as The Lord of the Rings may be more subtle, but they are no less authentic. A narrative about a rightful king returning to reclaim his kingdom, about the fracturing of the self caused by embracing temptation, and the dangers of pride and allure of power are well within the traditional boundaries of Christian story telling.

A fifth way a film might be Christian would be in the broad explicit and implicit values espoused in a story. For example, a story where morality is portrayed as objective, evil is unambiguously rejected, and perhaps defeated while an ethic of love is espoused might be Christian in this sense. In these sorts of stories there is broad concurrence with important ethical claims within the Christian worldview. Many of the great epic stories in recent years may fit this category of Christian narrative including the Harry Potter stories and perhaps Star Wars.

A sixth possible way a film might be Christian would be in the broad way it treats the nature of life and the world. Like the previous category's treatment of implicit and explicit values, this category is Christian in the sense that implicit and explicit claims about the nature of the world, the nature of humanity, and life in general might be Christian in this broad sense, even a fairly negative portrayal of human nature in a story such as Lord of the Flies might qualify. Similarly, M. Night Shyamalan's Signs is Christian in this sense as it suggests that nothing that happens in life is a coincidence and even tragedies happen for some greater good purpose.

Speaks, Avril Z.

Avril Z. Speaks
Adjunct Professor
Azusa Pacific University

Creating Truth/Creating Boundaries: Engaging Culture Through Truth in the Filmmaking Process

In his book, Culture Making, Andy Crouch states "culture is what human beings make of the world, but not everything that human beings make shapes culture" (Crouch 37). Perhaps it could be added that not everything that Christians make shapes culture. Most Christians want to have an impact on our culture. Christian filmmakers, in particular, often have a desire to influence the world, to take Hollywood by storm, or to spread the gospel through film. But it is hard to be a culture-shaper without truly engaging culture, and culture needs the diversity of a voice that speaks of hope for the hopeless with truth and sincerity.

From the moment God made humans in his image, he gave each of us the ability to mimic him as creators within our own sphere. For example, when God desired a tabernacle, he chose two artists, Bezalel and Oholiab, to orchestrate its construction. Similarly, we as artists were created to create. Yet, while that sounds good in theory, when it comes to the practicality of making films, storytellers often struggle with questions surrounding the ethics of storytelling, such as: Are some stories too graphic to tell? Is there a point when Christians can go too far in portraying a particular truth? What about the filmmakers who are ready to push the boundaries of the medium? The ones who want to go beyond what is "safe" and have the freedom to truly create for a world that is unbridled by the same Christian values?

These are timeless questions. In some cases, these questions can hinder artists from creating great work that can have the most impact on culture. Some of the greatest and well-known Christian art that came about during the Medieval and Renaissance eras received criticism from people within the Christian community who challenged the morality of such paintings, leaving artists to question their own boundaries. Even the "media" of those days had their own ethical battles to fight.

But art is not created in a vacuum. An artist's context shapes content, as do religious, cultural and artistic traditions. Similarly, an artist's content should take into consideration the context and aesthetics of the art form, thereby making the surrounding community the foundation for ethical questions. Artists are free to create from the inside of their context, from the inside of culture. And sometimes creating from the inside can force artists to take risks, to step outside the box, to move away from the norm and speak truth to the broken realities that our world is facing.

For many Christian filmmakers, it is easy to get stuck on the fine line between being true to one's faith and being true to one's story--the fine line between what sells, and what actually spreads the gospel. Using examples from Medieval and Renaissance religious art and contrasting those with the film art of our day, this paper explores the way in which culture and context inform our art, and offers alternate ways of viewing the filmmaking process as a theological act within itself. Written from the perspective of a practical filmmaker, it explores artistic concerns about the process of filmmaking through a theological lens. Useful for filmmakers, actors, writers, and any church leader with a desire to understand, support and engage with the mission of artists, this paper examines what it means to create films that impact culture beyond formulas and beyond what is safe.

Spencer, Caleb D.

Caleb D. Spencer
Assistant Professor of English
Azusa Pacific University

Secular Messianisms: Zizek's "Children of Men and 'The Lego Movie'"

"Secular Messianisms: Zizek's 'Children of Men and "The Lego Movie"'"" as Jacques Lacan put it, after God is dead, nothing is anymore permitted."

—Slavoj Zizek

The glut of films over the summer of 2013 that dealt directly with the destruction of their world, or a life after that destruction, from "Elysium" to "After Earth," to "This is the End" and the latest "Star Trek: Into the Darkness," all seem to suggest a zeitgeist obsessed with the destruction of all things. However, these films and programs are only the latest in over a decade of such destructive and dystopian representations and scholars from philosopher Slavoj Zizek to theologian Stanley Hauerwas have been working to describe, not only the fascination with the apocalyptic unveiling, but also with the Biblical mode that spawned this fascination and especially the focus upon the messianic figure who will be revealed and thereby save.

Zizek began his analysis of these themes in Welcome to the Desert of the Real and continued them in his more recent works on Christianity The Fragile Absolute and The Puppet and the Dwarf, but it has been his commentary of the 2007 Alfonso Cuaron adaptation of "Children of Men" and his recent work on the Christian conception of apocalypse and Badiou's "event" Living in the End Times that have solidified his position on Christianity as a source and foundation for Leftist political conception.

In the commentary that follows Alfonso Cuaron's adaptation of PD James' "Children of Men," Zizek discusses what he sees as the central importance of the film suggesting that the narrative, while at first seeming to be a retelling of the nativity story, is in fact better understood as a parable of the new Leftism necessary in a neoliberal world that no longer has any clear opposite. However, as Nicholas Brown and Eric Rasmussen have each separately suggested, the Leftist politics proposed by Zizek seem to amount to little more than waiting for an "Event" like the messianic moment depicted by Paul (and analyzed by Badiou in St. Paul: the Foundations of Universalism) in his epistles. In short, Zizek's investment in the apocalypse is not chiefly for any of its "content" but, as in his argument in The Fragile Absolute, he is committed to the structural center, as he sees it of Christianity: the way that it imagines an alternative to history through a messianic moment.

My paper will first delineate Zizek's conception of Christianity as this structural homology and then inquire about the actual potential of such an analysis for Leftist action where the People become the surrogate messiah. In the end I will argue that the structural guarantor of Christianity, the presence and reality of God (most notably in the actual, physical incarnation of Himself as Jesus), and its notable absence in at least Zizek's brand of Marxism, makes the Event narrative of Christianity an unfit homologue for Leftist politics. And by extension, this suggests that the radicalism of Cuaron's vision in Zizek's analysis turns out to be little more than political quietism born of idealism denied a reality. In short, Zizek's "Christianity" turns out to be neither Christianity nor the parable of Leftist action he desires and by extension this Continental Messianism turns out to be little more than a patient waiting.

I will conclude by suggesting that it is not just in high theory or in more auteur cinematic circles that this trend towards Christian homology and secular messianism exists, but that in children's films such as "The Lego Movie" a similar structure emerges. I am not the first to note that this film parallels the Christian narrative in many respects, but bringing together Zizek's work on apocalyptic film such as Cuaron's will demonstrate the peculiarities of the present moment in culture. In other words, in the awesome world of Emmett, the Brick Messiah, we see something quite similar to the dystopic world of baby Dylan, Cuaron's messianic figure.

Stoner, Samuel A.

Samuel A. Stoner
Post-Doctoral Fellow in Western Heritage and Philosophy
Carthage College

The Problem of Sin, the Possibilities of Art, and the Meaning of Culture: A Reading of Get Low

Get Low (2009), starring Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray and directed by Aaron Schneider, is centrally concerned with the themes of sin, confession, and forgiveness, and it explores these themes in explicit conversation with the Christian theological tradition. Accordingly, this film self-consciously raises the question of the place of faith in film and prompts its audience to wonder whether and how films can contribute to our understanding of the nature and meaning of faith and its place in our world, today. My essay will undertake a careful reading of Get Low in an attempt to further our thinking about the relationship between sin, art, and culture and about the question of whether and how film is an a fitting medium for teaching us about these notions.

I will begin by attempting to (1) articulate the account of sin that lies in the background of the plot of Get Low, (2) elucidate the understanding of human existence that corresponds to this account of sin, and (3) describe the predicament that confronts humans as fallen, or sinful, beings.

Subsequently, I will discuss the distinction between 'nature' and 'art' and explore the ways these notions are at work in Get Low. In particular, I will focus on the way wood appears in both natural (in trees in a forest) and artificial (as material for the construction of furniture, churches, coffins) forms over the course of the film in an attempt to draw out the film's affirmation of the power of art (in the broad sense embodied in the Greek notion of techne, or handicraft as well as the narrower sense of poiesis, or fine art).

Despite the fact that Get Low highlights the power of art in and through its representation of wood-working, however, I will argue that it simultaneously emphasizes the limitations of art in the face of the problem of sin. Time and again we see that whatever else humans can make or do, they cannot overcome their own fallenness by themselves—they cannot make themselves whole in the way that they can create a beautiful work of art. Instead, Get Low teaches that humans qua fallen must honestly confess their sins in hopes that, by the grace of God, they will be forgiven and saved from the dominion of sin. In this sense, Get Low aims to teach us about the great power and fundamental limits of art in human life.

Though it points to the limits of art in the face of the problem of sin, it would nevertheless be a mistake to conclude that Get Low indicates that humans are simply powerless in the face of this problem and that they must/ought to sit idly by, as wholly passive recipients of grace, for their sins to be forgiven by a force that is always above and beyond them. Far from it—the film clearly indicates that certain human activities, such as friendship and communal living, play an important role in preparing humans to participate in the economy of salvation, so to speak. Humans are not like wooden boards, which can simply be forced into a predetermined structure, nor are they like trees in a forest, which naturally tend to their own proper end. Ultimately, humans are somewhere between these two poles—they always only approach their proper telos (love of God and neighbor) problematically and require both the help of others and the grace of God to confront and transcend their status as fallen beings. Insofar as Get Low gestures toward this possibility, I will suggest that it is pointing toward a Christian notion of culture (in the classical sense of that which is required for the cultivation of the soul).

In light of these conclusions, I will argue that Get Low's teaching about art is ultimately reflexive. The film provides a standpoint from which we can begin to think through both the power and the limitations of film itself—its ability to address itself to humanity, to teach us about our own peculiar predicament as fallen beings, to contribute to (Christian) culture more generally. I hope to conclude my paper by stepping back from my focused reading of Get Low in order to offer several tentative remarks on the question of whether and how art in general and film in particular can and should contribute to our own spiritual formation and moral progress—to faith and culture.

Sugimoto, Mike

Mike Sugimoto
Associate Professor of Japanese Film and Literature
Pepperdine University

Every Picture Doesn't Tell a Story: 'Story-Talk' in Contemporary Christianity and the Alternative Cinema of Yasujiiro Ozu

From weekly sermons to faith and film studies papers, contemporary Christianity is filled with the notion of 'story' - 'God's story' - as a framework by which to understand the believer's place in the world. From the micro-level of individual life stories to larger frameworks that map out God's providence, one of the more powerful categories organizing meaning at present is that of story.

This paper suggests that the notion of story among Christians today reflects, in part, an uncritical influence of thirty years of postmodern discourse, which sought to leverage Western cultural privilege by critiquing it as a form of narrative; whether pro (Jean-Francois Lyotard) or con (Alasdair MacIntyre), story took center stage.

Another source, however, stems from Christians applying wholesale definitions of story largely inherited from classical Hollywood cinema and its predecessor, the modern novel, onto a Christian world view; basically, reading the Bible as a movie or novel genre.

By using Walter Ong's comparative studies of narrative theory in oral and print cultures, contrasting Biblical revelation with ancient narratives, as well as drawing upon philosophic critiques of the modern novel by Walter Benjamin in "The Storyteller" and J.M. Bernstein's neo-Marxist critique on Georg Lukacs' view of the modern novel in The Philosophy of the Novel, I seek to historicize the present use of story in many Christian circles today as decidedly non-Biblical in inspiration.

Examining the conventions of cinematic narrative in mainstream Hollywood, I propose a counter-narrative structure found in master cinematographer, Yasujiro Ozu , studying the work, Early Summer (1952). Ozu's films not only defy the camera space of individualism and linearity by forwarding a 360 degree space (versus classical Hollywood's 180 degree use), but use an elliptical narrative structure that relativizes human subjectivism (e.g., a character's 'arc' of development as a film's essential meaning), by portraying the presence of chaos in everyday life – ultimately thematized by death – and by foregrounding architectural space and low camera angles; thereby, jettisoning standard frameworks of narrative meaning that produce a sense of closure.

Thompson, Phillip M.

Phillip M. Thompson
Executive Director
Aquinas Center of Theology Emory University

"GATTACA": Exploring What it Means to Be Human in a World of Genetic Determinism

The movie "Gattaca" offers a provocative glimpse into the near future where we live in a brave new world of genetic determinism. Your genome often determines your work, your spouse, and your opportunities in life. Genetics is destiny or at least that is a common assumption. In the movie, a "natural" or "invalid", Vincent, who has not been genetically modified decides to fool the system by using the genetic materials of a genetically modified person to deceive an aerospace company, GATTACA, in order to become an astronaut and fly to the moon Titan. He risks everything to prove that he is worthy of space flight and to reject his being sentenced to menial labor because of defective genes.

The movie posits two opposing world views on human nature. One world view, that of transhumanism, assumes that our human biology can be modified to perfect ourselves through genetic engineering. Our given biology is faulty and in need of correction to improve our strength, looks, and character. Genetic engineering can manufacture "better" human beings and thus increase our collective utility.

The opposing world view assumes that there is more to human beings than their genetics. There are elements of the human spirit that are not genetically determined such as perseverance, creativity, love, and faith. Vincent is born through the love and giving of his parents to one another. He is a gift, a "love child". Vincent is able despite a bad heart and other genetic deficiencies to deceive the system in order to go to Titan. This is not supposed to be possible by a "natural" given the regnant code of genetic determinism but it happens.

The movie highlights the battle of world views in a number of ways. There is a battle, with its biblical resonance, between Vincent and his genetically modified younger brother Anton. Anton is the detective called into GATTACA to investigate a murder. Some of Vincent's DNA is found on a hair and Anton looks for and eventually confronts Vincent. Vincent challenges his brother to a dare to see how far each one will swim out into the ocean. Anton turns back, begins to drown, and is saved by Vincent. Vincent willingness to take risks is greater than that of his brother. Hence, against all genetic odds the genetically inferior Vincent wins.

The movie is constantly exploring and challenging the implications of genetic determinism for the characters and society in the movie. It raises many questions like the issue of living only within your assigned genetic limits. As the mission director at GATTACA notes when asked, "Nobody exceeds expectations." Vincent breaks through this assumption time and time again. We are not just our nature in the form of genetics, but we are also impacted by our environment. We are also a spirit, with unique features such as our drive, creativity, and faith in our selves. Where does this X factor come from? It is a question the movie raises but does not answer. It is not in the genes.

The movie also speaks to many spiritual and ethical issues such as the implications for family and community of genetic modifications. Also, what happens when procreation is not a gift made in love, but a series of product choices to maximize our output in the form of a child. What are the psychological consequences of being designed or not being designed?

The religious implications of this new voluntary eugenics is a relevant question today as we are already beginning to have the capability to design our children. The world of "GATTACA" is no longer on the distant horizon. A major writer on scientific developments, David A. Kirby, has concluded this year that, "within the next few decades our increasing knowledge of human genetics, combined with germ line therapy, will enable us to produce custom- designed genetic individuals."

So people of faith confront a basic question, can we defend our current natures as part of good God given creation or will we decide to constantly "improve" our species through a new eugenics that will bind us to a vision of genetic determinism? The film "GATTACA" helps us to carefully explore these questions while they are still only hypotheticals.

Trapp, Joonna Smitherman

Joonna Smitherman Trapp
Senior Writing Program Coordinator
Emory University

Shyamalan's Gothic Response to the American Religious Experiment

Reviewers' attacks on The Village by director M. Night Shyamalan were frequent and even harsh. The script was called a "low point" in his streak of successful films with "poorly realized characters, dialogue, and story" (Goldsmith). According to, only "39% of the nation's critics gave the movie a thumbs-up." These reviewers in large part focused on film elements which make a movie commercially attractive.

They missed, I believe, Shyamalan's delicate examination of the American religious cultural project which began with the Puritans and their errand into the wilderness, continued in the Nineteenth Century with utopian colonies, and even continues today in a myriad of forms.

The horror/gothic genre is most often talked about in terms of psychoanalysis of the individual, but in Shyamalan's camera, the genre's conventions are used to go beyond a focus on the individual's psyche. The American cultural psyche is also under the microscope, and in Shyamalan's films, and The Village especially, the gothic is all intertwined with the deep spiritual history and character of America.

In an attempt to recover a nineteenth-century ideal (which is an invented past and not a real past), the creators of the village invent tales of monsters to control and protect the population of the village. This utopian community is supposed to be free from evil, crime, hate, violence, and lust. But nothing can protect the village. The children of the creators seem to all be deformed in some way—-blind, emotionally crippled, mentally handicapped, inarticulate, naïve, or weak and cowardly. Jealousy and murder threaten the village as much as does the threat of disease. The fear that permeates the village is palpable, and the utopian dream is tarnished. The monsters are not in the woods—they are within the society they have created. And yet, we admire and sympathize with the ideals of the founders of the village; we can't hate them, for they are us.

This essay will examine The Village in particular and Shyamalan's work generally in context of an in-depth look at his handling of gothic conventions (the double, the frontier/wilderness, the invasion of the past, guilt, darkness, monsters and ghosts, the mirror and seeing, the family in distress, etc.) as he offers both appreciation and critique for the ways faith undergirds and manipulates society and thought. Perhaps Rainer is right in noting Shyamalan's "penchant for messianic uplift," but perhaps the optimism that he inserts in his film's endings is warranted by the mythic project to which he has committed himself in the creation of these films.

Vassar, John S.

John S. Vassar
Professor of Humanities
Louisiana State University at Shreveport

Feminizing Vengeance:Reading the Book of Judges in the Flickering Light of Unforgiven, True Grit, and Zero Dark Thirty

"People do not give it credence that a young girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood, but it did happen." Opening words of True Grit by Joel and Ethan Coen

Vengeance has long been a staple of American film. In recent years, several films have taken up the question of vengeance following a peculiar pattern: a female antagonist, using male structures and powers, to exact vengeance for individual and for community. This paper explores the narrative implications of three recent Oscar nominated films: Unforgiven, True Grit (2010), and Zero Dark Thirty. Each of these texts explore the theme of vengeance through the use of female antagonists as the catalyst for male violence and destruction. These three films, using the genre of a Western, contain stories of both vengeance and cost.

These films share a similar structure and theme to an account in the book of Judges in chapters 4 and 5. This text narrates the story of Deborah and Barak and the war of Israel against Jabin and the Canaanites. Deborah too uses a male instrument to exact vengeance on evil oppressors. Like her cinematic sisters, Maya and Mattie, Deborah engages in an act of aggression against oppressors. These films, read alongside the text of Judges, affect the reading of the biblical narrative. They remind the reader to reflect not just on the victory of Israel, but also of the costs of vengeance.

Viser, William Coke

William Coke Viser
Professor of Christian Studies
Ouachita Baptist University

Takinga Bite out of Christianity: The Challenge for Christianity Confronting Cultural Interest in Vampires

Cultural interest in vampires has never been stronger than in the 21st century.

The interest in such television series as in "the Vampire Diaries," its spin-offs series 'The Originals," HBO's "True Blood," now in its seventh season and the debut of "Dracula" on NBC in the fall of 2013, all attest to the popularity of vampires on the small screen.

The big screen has certainly paralleled the success of television, as well. Bram Stoker's novel Dracula has never been out of print in over one hundred years and has spawned over eighty films based on the Count alone.

The vampire theme has persisted successfully in such film series as the "Twilight" trilogy, four films in the "Underworld" series, not to mention "Blade" which produced three films and Quentin Tarantino's "Dusk to Dawn' with three films and the hugely successful, "Diary of a Vampire" based on the popular Anne Rice novels.

Given the enthusiasm with which a cross section of the population has greeted the vampire legend, what does this say about the influence of vampire films on the viewing audience today? Have depictions of vampires progressed to the point of engendering sympathy for their plights? Do the current films raise any questions concerning sexual morality? Do such films seem to foster an unhealthy, interest in the occult and the supernatural?

What should be the church's role in addressing this issue and what constraints should be employed? Should the church be more practical in addressing such interest and where should the church begin?

Are there principles that speak to people of faith that can be drawn from media's focus on vampires?

These and many issues challenge the church today. What will be our response?

Volkers, Mark

Volkers, Mark
Dordt College

How Do You Get Al Jazeera Worldwide to Purchase your Christian Film for Middle East Broadcast? (Or, Can Christians make films the secular world will pay attention to?)

Ask someone what comes to mind when you say, "Christian film."

If your experience is anything like mine, the one word you'll hear more than any other is "Cheezy" (along with an eye roll to back it up.)

My film students and I prefer not to make "Christian" films. We prefer films that are made by Christians. We are Christians. We are film makers. We make films that draw from our perspective and world view and those views strongly shape subject matter and treatment, but we also understand that we are making films, not writing and preaching sermons. So often, "Christian film" fails to see the distinction between preaching and storytelling through the medium of film. When one medium of communication is forced into the other, the result is … cheezy.

Dordt College is a Christian, mid-sized, four-year college in Iowa. Dordt's college-based production company, Prairie Grass Productions, had the "cheezy" issue in mind when we began production on a feature-length documentary film about slums and the more-than one billion people who inhabit them. Our film, "The Fourth World," goes past statistics like "one in six of us lives in a slum," and "most live on $2 a day or less" and allows an audience to actually meet some of these "statistics" in a very personal way. In the process, the audience quickly realizes that these people have names, jobs, a place to live, and hope for a brighter future.

The vision for this film was born from our faith, from Scripture's commands to help the poor, and from a very deep-seated outrage over the way things are. Our good God never intended for mankind—the crowing jewel of His creation—to live in deplorable squalor, disease and hunger. The corrupting influence of sin and all that goes with it, means generations of people spend their entire lives in survival mode, never able to explore their God-given gifts and contribute to Kingdom growth. Our goal was to tell an entertaining story about this topic in a way that Christians and non-Christians could enjoy and benefit from. If we told it correctly, we could start a global dialogue about this. If we didn't tell it correctly, the film would gather dust and the discussion we longed for would never happen.

We knew from day one that if we made a "Christian film," our audience would be severely limited and our financial return would be almost nil. We set a goal to produce a film made by Christians and see how much of the world we could get to see it. "The Fourth World" has screened at film festivals around the world and taken many top prizes. El Jazeera Worldwide purchased the rights to it for broadcast across the Middle East. As of this writing, we are in negotiations with Discovery Channel Worldwide. The film is regularly downloaded from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Hulu and YouTube.

In my presentation, I'll discuss the "Christian Film/Film by a Christian" difference and why it is important. Using "The Fourth World" as our example, we'll discuss what we did right, what we did wrong, and what we'll do differently next time. One absolute non-negotiable for Christians who want their work seen outside the Christian bubble is extensive pre-marketing before the film ever gets into production. Consciously determining audience, message and treatment in advance can create opportunities for penetration into the secular marketplace. Networking and cross-marketing with organizations—both secular and Christian—can be huge advantages to the savvy marketer that wants his story not just told, but seen and heard. Three key marketing strategies—International distribution, digital aggregation and the festival circuit—will also be considered.

With the right planning, subject matter and treatment, Christian filmmakers can avoid the deadly stigma of having a cheezy film, and broadcast their "film made by a Christian" in one of the most Muslim parts of the world.

Waddell, Robby

Robby Waddell
Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature
Southeastern University

Apocalipsis Verde: Eschatological Hope for Earth in Post-apocalyptic Films and Ancient Apocalyptic Texts

Post-apocalyptic dystopias have captured the attention and imagination of our present culture—dominating at the box office and populating the best-seller lists. Packed with religious overtones, the secular eschatologies undergirding these stories combine a mixture of both hope and despair. One part fantasy and one part science-fiction, post-apocalyptic dystopias may contain zombies, vampires, aliens, or artificial intelligence, for example World War Z, District 9, the Matrix trilogy, or iRobot. What these popular stories share is a pessimistic outlook, rooted in the assumption that if humanity stays on its present trajectory then a collapse of the status quo—societal and ecological—is unavoidable. A cataclysmic event, often spelling disaster for the environment, is therefore an essential element to the backstory of any post-apocalyptic tale. Various causes of the catastrophe include the usual suspects: global pandemic, overpopulation, climate change, nuclear holocaust, alien invasion and so on. Hence, it is not uncommon for the setting of a post-apocalyptic story to be depicted as a veritable wasteland. In these stories, the presupposed ecological tragedy may have severely altered the environment, but it has not annihilated it. In fact, what has happened is that the apocalyptic catastrophe has neutralized the ecological threats that were the original catalysts for the devastation in the first place. The environment receives an opportunity to rebound once its abusers have faced judgment. In other words, Earth may get beaten black-and-blue, yet the final effect is a green apocalypse—an event that rids Earth of its destructive inhabitants or at least counterbalances their negative effects, giving the global ecosystem a chance to renew.

In this paper I will offer readings of four apocalyptic stories—two modern films (Noah and Wall-E) and two ancient stories (1 Enoch and Revelation). My approach to these films and texts utilizes elements from a method of ecological hermeneutics that has been developed by Norman Habel and others from the Earth Bible team. [For a historical overview of the development of the method see Nomran C. Habel, "The Origins and Challenges of an Ecojustice Hermeneutic," in Relating to the Text: Interdisciplinary and Form-Critical Insights on the Bible (ed. Timothy Sandoval and Carleen Mandolfo; London: T & T Clark, 2003), 141–59.] The Noahic flood story is a very early example of a green apocalypse, in which the penultimate event may have been devastation on the planet but the ultimate end was a renewal of Earth. Wall-E expresses a similar ecological hope for the future of Earth. Contrary to the popular Left Behind series and the dispensational eschatology that fuels it, the ancient Jewish and early Christian apocalyptic texts share more in common with the present-day secular eschatologies of popular post-apocalyptic films. It is my hope that these ecological readings with their attention to the concept of a green apocalypse may be useful in appreciating the possibility of eco-friendly interpretations of apocalyptic texts.

Warren, Brain James

Brian James Warren
Assistant Professor

"Man of La Mancha – Man of True Vision and Faith"

In Genesis Chapter 1, verse 20, the line reads "God made man in the image of God." Unfortunately, most of us either cannot or will not see our fellow human beings as godlike in anyway; instead we see – and often point out – all of their flaws.

Alonso Quijana – who preferred to call himself Don Quixote de la Mancha – saw his fellow man as we hope God sees them.

This paper will explore Arthur Hiller's 1972 film version of the stage musical of the same name "Man of La Mancha." Starring the late Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren, the film depicts a human with the vision God meant for us to have. Don Quixote sees the true potential of men and women, not their shields they show to the world. Though derided as crazy, Don Quixote saw the world and its people as a truly faithful man should see them.

Using key scenes and songs from the film, this paper will exemplify this superior vision of Don Quixote de La Mancha.

Weagel, Elisabeth C.

Elisabeth C. Weagel
Brigham Young University

Now I Know in Part: Film as an Intermediary Between Audience and the Ideal

The relationship between audience and film is multiplicitous because audience members bring their own history and experience to each film they view. While this is true, there are patterns that arise--experiences that are common among many audience members. Among these is an experience of transcendence while watching a film. When transcendence occurs, film is functioning as an intermediary between the real, physical world and the ideal, Heavenly world. Transcendence can happen with films that are explicitly religious and those that are not. In both cases, film creates links between the audience and the ideal. 1 Corinthians 13:12, Plato's allegory of the cave, and the Pygmalion myth are three traditions that help to explain this relationship.

1 Corinthians 13:12 is of particular interest to the cinemaphile because it uses the lens to describe the human relationship with God. "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." A camera lens functions like the glass, it abducts things from their physical state and turns them into shadows that are then viewed by an audience. In this case, the glass is an intermediary first. Then the captured images are projected and become a second intermediary. In the text, "glass" is meant to mean "mirror." The glass reflects, but does not give an adequate representation of the whole. Similarly, film is an illusion in the likeness of earthly reality, and earthly reality is an illusion in the likeness of a Heavenly reality.

In Plato's allegory of the cave, the prisoners at first only know the world in shadows. When one prisoner escapes his chains and leaves the cave, he discovers reality. Likewise, the cinema audience enters a darkened theatre, which functions as a cave, and watches shadows dancing on the wall. Then they, too, emerge into the real world. The pattern of descent into the cave and reascent into the world causes a juxtaposition that creates a longing for something beyond this world. It teaches something beyond the physical, which to the Christian mind sounds like an earth-Heaven relationship.

Pygmalion felt the frustrations of reality not matching his desire for the ideal. He was dissatisfied with the imperfect world (and its imperfect women) and longed to be connected with the ideal. Likewise, in the cinematic tradition, audiences choose to walk into a theatre to experience something beyond the real. Often this has created a space for social exploration—in theatres, audiences can consider ideas that are difficult to encounter in the real. When this is the case, the shadows become an allegory for the real world, and inform real life. Cinema can also be a channel that connects audiences to the ideal, or at least allows them to approach or consider it.

Through these three texts, a continuum is established. First, the lens intercepts the filmmaker and his subject and leads to the creation of the shadow, which intercepts audience and the ideal. The Pygmalion myth teaches how to navigate the relationship between shadow, reality, and the ideal. It is through his faith and prayer that Pygmalion is able to achieve the ideal in Galatea coming to life. Film's disparity between reality and the ideal can inspire audiences to sanctify their lives in an effort to achieve a higher form of living, in preparation for the life to come.

Werse, Nicholas R.

Nicholas R. Werse
Graduate Student
Baylor University

Rebecca W. Poe Hays
Graduate Student
Baylor University

Evangelicals and Fight Club: A Cultural Comparison of Masculine Ideology

Since the 1999 release of the film "Fight Club," millions of people have resonated with Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden and Edward Norton's unnamed "everyman" character. The film prompted not only raving reviews from media analysts but also inspired the formation of miniature fight clubs across the nation, complete with the occasional creation and detonation of home-made explosive devises inspired by Project Mayhem. One unexpected sector of American society that has identified with the film, however, has been the religious right. Various evangelical men's ministries across the country have adopted the name "Fight Club," drawing images and slogans from the film (e.g., the image of "soap," and the slogan: "the first rule of [Christian] fight club is…") and occasionally even initiating faith based mixed martial arts competitions. In previously published research, the presenters explored the ideological discontinuity between the evangelical men's ministries and the film-based metaphor and considered the broader implications of the Christian appropriation of media-based metaphors, including the ways in which the adopted metaphor inadvertently/implicitly influences its users and recipients. Nevertheless, certain areas of ideological similarity between the movie "Fight Club" and these evangelical men's ministries do exist.

In the present paper, we will explore one area of ideological similarity between the movie "Fight Club" and the evangelical right that employs the "Fight Club" metaphor. By drawing upon the cultural semiotic theory of Yuri Lotman, we propose to compare and contrast the form and function of "masculinity" as a cultural symbol in both the film and the evangelical right. The following study will explore two aspects of masculinity as found in both cultures. First, this paper will compare the definition of "masculinity" as a cultural symbol in relation to other common cultural symbols. Both the film and the evangelical sub-culture employing the "Fight Club" metaphor define true "masculinity" in contrast to the perceived diminished form of masculinity presented in broader American culture rather than to a representation of the feminine. Both cultures define true "masculinity" in terms of taking responsibility and control in the face of fear and hardship. The second area for cultural analysis is the formation of true "masculinity." As both cultures define true "masculinity" over and against the diminished masculinity in broader American society, both cultures propose that men need to overcome several hindrances to true masculinity common in American society today. Thus both the film "Fight Club" and the evangelical right offer not only a critique of the shortcomings of masculinity in broader American culture but also provide a paradigm for overcoming such shortcomings. Among them, both cultures identify the failure of fathers, the self-definition according to occupation, and consumerism as the cultural chains restricting the development of true "masculinity" for the modern American man. Both cultures, therefore, present the need to overcome these restrictions before true masculinity may manifest. Both cultures present the struggle to overcome these cultural constraints as a battle to conquer the self. Finally, both cultures conclude with the assertion that the cause of true masculinity is best served when liberated men become a part of something larger than themselves.

While many differences do exist between the culture of the film "Fight Club" and the evangelical men's ministries drawing upon it for their metaphor, when it comes to the definition and formation of true "masculinity," the two cultures bear striking similarities.

Wheeler, Jared

Jared Wheeler
Rapoport Academy

Theodicy at the Movies: The Problem of Evil Through a Lens of Faith

Cinematic evil is a monster with many faces, but surely the most terrifying of them is evil triumphant over powerless or nonexistent forces of good. One of the most significant philosophical challenges to theism is the problem of how such evil can co-exist with a benevolent, omnipotent deity. These sorts of filmic depictions of evil are particularly prevalent in horror movies (THE EXORCIST) and film noir (CHINATOWN), and as varied as these portrayals can be, the feelings they inspire, of bleak, nihilistic hopelessness in the face of an irreparably fallen world, are strikingly similar. A few films, however, put faith in dialogue with the confounding reality of evil in the world, and the results are startlingly different. Some of the greatest filmmakers in the world (Bergman, Bresson, Dreyer, Tarkovsky, and von Trier, to name a few) have dealt with theodicy in one or more of their films. Faith provides an added dimension through which these artists grapple with ideas that have occupied philosophers and theologians for centuries, explore how people use faith to construct meaning out of suffering, and even question whether faith really has an satisfying answers in the face of immense tragedy and loss. Approaching theodicy through storytelling can expose an audience to unique ideas and lead to surprising new perspectives. In this paper I will analyze three such perspectives in films that deal with faith and the problem of evil by reimagining the traditional Christian understanding of specific biblical characters and their stories: Judas Iscariot in the Japanese film SILENCE (1971), Job in the Danish film ADAM'S APPLES (2005), and Noah in the recent Hollywood blockbuster NOAH (2014).

Whitfield, Bryan J.

Bryan J. Whitfield
Associate Professor of Christianitye
Mercer University, College of Liberal Arts

Paul of Hollywood?

Students of film may rightly speak, as Adele Reinhartz has done in her eponymous title, of Jesus of Hollywood. There is no shortage of treatments of the man from Nazareth on the silver screen. By contrast, films examining the apostle Paul are in short supply. The slim repertoire is evident in monographs on Paul and film, which invariably turn to examine Pauline themes in a variety of films, with scant attention to portraits of the apostle himself.

Yet cinematographic portraits of Paul do exist, including three biopics: Robert Day's 1981 Peter and Paul, Roger Young's 2000 San Paulo (English release 2004), and Robert Marcarelli's 1997 Paul the Emissary. Anthony Andrews' 1985 miniseries A.D. features Paul, among others, in its treatment of the earliest Christians. The apostle from Tarsus also plays a supporting role in Martin Scorsese's 1988 The Last Temptation of Christ. In addition, the Italian poet and novelist Pier Paolo Pasolini has written a screenplay, Sao Paolo, which has never been produced. Verso Books will publish Elizabeth Castelli's introduction and English translation of the screenplay this summer.

Extant scholarship treats some, but not all of these offerings. Richard Walsh's Finding St. Paul in Film, for example, provides some five pages of discussion featuring the work of Young, Pasolini, and Scorsese. Surprisingly, however, he does not examine the others. In a forthcoming survey article, "Paul and the Early Church in Film," Walsh briefly treats the work of Day and Andrews as well as Pasolini's screenplay and Roberto Rossellini's Acts of the Apostles (Atti Degli Apostoli; a five-part Italian television miniseries, 1969). Due to the nature of the survey article, however, he devotes only a paragraph to each.

Other treatments of Paul in film move away from the bioepics or epic treatments of early Christianity entirely. Larry J. Kreitzer's Pauline Images in Fiction and Film: On Reversing the Hermeneutical Flow explores no film that focuses on Paul himself. In a similar way, the volumes of Paul Jewett (Saint Paul at the Movies: The Apostle's Dialogue with American Culture and Saint Paul Returns to the Movies: Triumph over Shame) explore particular Pauline texts in conversation with movies, but they do not explore any cinematographic treatments of Paul.

Thus scholarly attention to portraits of Paul in film has been scant indeed.

This paper seeks to fill that gap by providing an analysis of three films that focus on extensively on Paul: Day's Peter and Paul and the bioepics of Young and Marcarelli. In particular, the paper explores at least four areas of comparison:

  1. To what degree do these portraits of Paul conform to a common narrative template for biopics sketched in George F. Custen's Bio/Pics: How Hollywood Constructed Public History?
  2. In constructing their portrait of Paul, what weight do the films give to the Lukan portrait of Paul in Acts and to the Pauline self-portrait of his letters?
  3. What, if any attention, do the more recent offerings pay to the new perspective on Paul that James D. G. Dunn, N. T. Wright, and others have articulated?
  4. What other theological and ideological interests shape these particular representations of the apostle whom Wayne Meeks once aptly named "the Christian Proteus"? How apt are the taxonomies of Walsh and others for assessing these portraits of Paul?
Whitmire, Jr., John F.

John F. Whitmire, Jr.
Associate Professor and Department Head
Western Carolina University

The Dialectic of Love in The Lord of the Rings

This essay is the second in a series of papers examining the virtues—both theological and cardinal—in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, with special attention given to the translation of those virtues into Peter Jackson's 'secular' film version of the text. In the first essay (presented at the Faith, Film and Philosophy seminar at Gonzaga University in 2013), I argued that the virtue of hope as we see it in those works (both text and film) is, contrary to expectations, presented in a decidedly more Pauline-Augustinian than Thomistic mode. I then utilized the philosophical work of Kierkegaard, Derrida, and Caputo to help gloss the dialectical "foolishness" of this (hoping against) hope (with respect to good, traditional prudence, phronesis or practical wisdom). It is, I contend, only in the hope that good will somehow prevail through the giving up or sacrificing of power and of oneself – that we can make full sense both of Tolkien's own notion of "eucatastrophe" and of what hope must mean within a pre-Christian Middle-Earth in its Jacksonian incarnation.

In this essay, then, I begin a longer exploration of the substantive notion of love – expressed as forgiveness and mercy, compassion, hospitality, and self-sacrifice – in these works. In this paper specifically, I take up the dialectic of love – the notion that love only shows what it truly is in acts of love for the unlovable (the foe or enemy) – in conjunction with the cardinal virtue of justice. In Tolkien's work, there are a number of occasions in which a preference for justice is expressed over and above the legal requirements currently in force in a state, clearly pointing to justice as a higher value than simply upholding the law. However, exceeding even this preference for a justice- beyond-law, we see a further preference (on behalf of the heroic characters) for a gratuitous mercy or forgiveness that goes above and beyond even the strict requirements of justice (viz., "what is deserved"), in the interests of redeeming – or attempting to redeem – a seemingly unredeemable enemy. The example of Gollum is obviously the clearest, with Gandalf, the Elves, Frodo, and even (eventually) Sam setting aside what would be just to do with him on behalf of mercy. However, other occurrences also demonstrate this preference for a course of action that exceeds justice, returning our attention to it throughout the text. Thëoden's expulsion of Wormtongue and his pardoning of the Hillmen after the battle at Helm's Deep, Gandalf and Frodo's mercy towards Saruman, and Aragorn's dispensing of judgments after the last battle, all clearly point to a particularly Christian theological notion of love as a gratuitous extension of mercy and forgiveness that can, in a way, heal or redeem the Other by allowing him or her to return to a previously ruptured community of humanity.

If Jackson does a particularly good job, as I have previously argued, translating the virtue of hope to film, I believe he does significantly less well translating what C.S. Lewis has called (in Mere Christianity) the most unpopular virtue—forgiveness. Most of the explicit subsidiary instances of mercy-beyond-justice in the text are excised in the films, with the notable exception of the emphasis on pity and mercy for Gollum. I therefore argue that despite his best intentions of capturing the Christian element (as evidenced by, for instance, his overt use of Marian imagery with Galadriel), a substantial depth constituent of the text is thereby left behind by Jackson in the making of his films, and we are left — absent the seemingly unique example of Gollum — with the cardinal virtue of justice, largely untempered by a higher notion of forgiveness.

Wilmington, David M.

David M. Wilmington
Ph. D. Candidate/Adjunct
Baylor University

Christian Enough?: For and Against "Christian Film"

This presentation will explore the question of implicit and explicit litmus tests for determining when a film might be considered "faith-based" or "Christian" and why. I will argue that, while we cannot and should not attempt to develop strict Christian litmus tests for any art, indiscriminate acceptance of films as "faith-based" or Christian is also problematic and detrimental.

I will present a spectrum of recent films and film criticism to demonstrate the range of opinion on this question: from films with explicitly faith-based or "Christian content" ("God is Not Dead," "The Passion of the Christ") which are promoted and interpreted as such to films which do not seem Christian at all but which scholars and critics subject to a theological reading ("Juno," the "Dark Knight" trilogy, etc). In these brief analyses, I will also discuss the relationship of objective artistic merit to the acceptance and promotion of films as "Christian."

To provide a specific case for analysis, I will present my short film "Bailey" (2008) - a six-minute film which has no explicit reference to faith at all, but which, I will argue, is susceptible to a religious or theological reading. I will attempt to inspire discussion over the driving question about a litmus test: Does the ability of critics or believers to find within or perhaps to read into a film Christian themes justify calling something a "Christian Film"? In other words, is it enough to say "one could see this or that aspect of this film as consistent with Christianity" knowing that many or most viewers might miss or misinterpret that aspect entirely? Finally, using "Bailey" as an example, I will ask about the dangers of both the enforcement or absence of any litmus test.

"Bailey" synopsis:

Focusing on an estranged husband's return home after his involvement (as a police officer) in a tragic school-shooting, "Bailey" uses a highly stylized visual approach to explore the aftermath of a tragedy and its effect on a marriage on the brink of dissolution. Through flashbacks and dialogue, we recognize that multiple-layers of loss are in play for this young couple, and we witness the possibility of reconciliation and healing. [This film has PG-level profanity.]

Womack, Ryan L.

Ryan L. Womack
Teacher of Record, Graduate Student
Baylor University

Only Human: Suicide and Theodicy in McQueen's Hunger and McCarthy's The Sunset Limited

My essay takes into account the question of suicide in two films, Steve McQueen's Hunger and Tommy Lee Jones' The Sunset Limited, and the theological framework that focuses each. In Steve McQueen's Hunger (2008), Michael Fassbender plays Bobby Sands, leader of the 1981 hunger strike in Maze Prison, Northern Ireland. As a whole, the movie questions the ethics behind both sides of the Irish Troubles, British and Irish terrors. Sands' character, though, uniquely brings to light the ultimate value of a single life in the midst of the larger Troubles, how abstractions of war and politics are never more centralized than in the parts of whole, the people who suffer. My essay wants to focus on broader theme of suffering and suicide, confined particularly in a long conversation between Sands and a priest he calls in. McQueen's priest offers the consolations of religion, but the film suggests that it is not enough for Sands, who claims his life is not a "theological question but a reality." His willingness to slowly kill himself with hunger is a martyr's death he says, but this scene sincerely shakes up this theory alongside the efforts of the priest. About his choice to die in prison, a political revolt, he says, "I'm clear of the reasons, and I'm clear of the repercussions. I will act." Nothing satisfies, not till peace. He must act, he says, because he is "only human," and the God he understands will not act in his stead.

Tommy Lee Jones' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Sunset Limited: A Novel in Dramatic Form (2006), successfully stages McCarthy's dramatic work in its theme and vision. I say staging because the feeling one gets in watching the film is that of a one-act play, which it is, performed intimately with the viewer. Jones' and Samuel L. Jackson's portrayal of McCarthy's "White" and "Black," respectively, share the novel's sense of confinement, being wrapped together in an existential cocoon in a New York City ghetto. In this respect the film closely aligns with McQueen's, a stripped-down catechesis between a religious figure (the priest and Black) and the person whose life and will are in question (Sands and White). More particularly, the film is confined to the life of a single man, the questions of a "professor of darkness," and this vision streamlines a theme in McCarthy's work of the restlessly peripatetic protagonists—the kid from Blood Meridian, the boy from The Road, John Grady Cole and Billy Parham from the Border Trilogy, John Wesley Rattner from The Orchard Keeper—who all are sympathetically young for the evils they encounter and enact. The drama consists in the all-or-nothing negotiations about the prospect of an omnibenevolent God and how such duties to or judgments from that God bear upon our being. If there is such a God, the two movies seem to ask, how can this God abide human suffering?

In both films, silence is the final response to human suffering. Viewers stumble through theological thickets the protagonists produce, and we are left unsure of viable responses. However, we wonder the theological trajectory of these films, whether they hunt for the deus absconditus or hint aslant to a God who is neither existent, indifferent, somnambulant, or malevolent. I want to explore how both theodicies validate both the concern for human suffering as a real evil, but also how both McCarthy and McQueen, in spite of their seemingly tragic ends, reveal a supernatural trajectory. In doing so, and without ostensible denominational confessions, these two films visualize the waste of human life—in suffering and in suicide—and the divine concerns for these lives.

Wood, Naaman K.

Naaman K. Wood
Duke Divinity School

Knowing Rupture, Bearing Suffering, and Witnessing to the Resurrection: Thinking with Andrei Rublev's Theology of Suffering

Andrei Tarkovsky's second film, Andrei Rublev, offers a portrait of the famed Russian iconographer of the same name. The film's depiction of Christ's passion is not only one of the most unusual portrayals in cinema history, its construal of the passion and the theology of suffering that emerges from it can serve as a theological resource for the church today. A close reading of two sequences in the film—the Passion and the Raid—suggests that Rublev possesses an inadequate theology of suffering. From the Passion, the iconographer imagines a deep allegorical connection between the passion of Christ and the suffering of Russia's peasants. Like his visualization of Christ, Russia suffers in absolute nobility. However, the Raid on Vladimir shows his account to be pure fantasy. Unable to withstand the degradation of the city's suffering, Rublev withdraws from the world. He vows to never speak or paint again. Only at the end of the film does the iconographer choose to engage a world he cannot control.

From the film's final theological construal of suffering, the church can learn to keep three insights close to its own theological imagination: knowing rupture, bearing suffering, and witnessing to the resurrection. Vladimir opens for Rublev a space of absolute rupture. It is that singular event after which nothing can ever be the same again. Within the horizon of the film, the Raid of Vladimir functions as the film's true passion sequence. Unless Christ's passion becomes for the church what Vladimir became for Rublev, it cannot be for the church that singular event after which nothing can ever be the same. In addition to the rupture of Christ's passion, Tarkovsky's film also reminds the church to keep the sufferings of the world near to Christ's passion. Like Rublev, the church cannot overcome suffering, neither in its life nor in its preaching. It can only bring the brokenness of the world near to its own heart and follow Christ in bearing that brokenness. Finally, where Rublev's words and art could not overcome evil and where the church's preaching and presence may not visibly change the world for the better, these acts can bear witness to resurrection. When the church proclaims the hope of resurrection, hope cannot be that word or act that comes after rupture or suffering has concluded. The hope of the resurrection is that daring word uttered from deep within the shadow of rupture and suffering. To be a credible witness to the resurrection, the church must follow Christ into the world's rupture and suffering, not to redeem the world, but because in Christ, resurrection has become reality.